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The United Way of San Diego County announced Tuesday it received a grant of nearly $450,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health intended to give families more economic resources and support to improve childhood experiences.

The nonprofit was one of 23 across the nation to receive the funding. The organization will use the money from the Office of Minority Health to form a three-year partnership with community organizations in San Diego County, aiming to measure for the first time how giving families more resources prevents adverse childhood experiences — also called ACEs.

The $449,898 grant, funded entirely by OMH, will support United Way’s “Building Resilience: Evaluating the Impact of Economic Supports on ACEs Risk” project, which focuses on preventing ACEs by bolstering emotional intelligence and economic stability in parents.

These factors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are most likely to reduce abuse, exposure to violence, family dysfunction, substance abuse and poverty — some of the most prevalent ACEs that can predispose children to serious physical and mental health complications later in life.

“Adverse childhood experiences are often linked to chronic health problems for children in adulthood, such as mental illness and addiction, which can hinder them from achieving their full potential,” said Nancy Sasaki, president and CEO of United Way of San Diego County. “However, we believe these traumatic experiences can be prevented if we step up to provide more economic security as well as financial education opportunities for the low- income, working families in our community.”

The nonprofit works with community partners “to address inequities in our region and help underserved communities.”

It has gathered a group of five partners to execute the project and achieve its goals. The Building Resilience partners bring experience in the area of tax preparation assistance, financial education and family support services.

According to the United Way, Building Resilience will focus on concrete solutions such as helping families access the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

The project will measure, from September 30, 2020, to September 30, 2023, how economic stability reduces childhood trauma for children growing up in low-income working families, particularly those in communities of color disproportionately at risk for ACEs.

UWSD and Building Resilience partners will reach out to target populations of individuals experiencing homelessness or those who are underemployed, immigrants and refugees, as well as limited English proficient small business owners operating within county-identified Opportunity Zones. The United Way hopes to reach more than 29,000 individuals with EITC outreach and financial education annually throughout the three years of funding, and enroll a total of 400-600 people into the project at different levels of involvement and guidance.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 27% of San Diego children lived in families where the parents did not have secure employment. As the pandemic drags on, San Diego County’s unemployment rate remains more than double what it was this time last year. Given the economic climate, a significantly higher number of children will be living in financially unstable families for the foreseeable future, and thereby at higher risk of ACEs — an outcome that UWSD and its partners said they hope to prevent.

“For the past 100 years, our team has been committed to aligning partners, leveraging resources and transforming the lives of those in need,” Sasaki said. “We look forward to putting these funds from OMH into action for those most at risk of adverse childhood experiences.”

–City News Service

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