These organisations provide evidence of the good they do throughout the country through the metrics on their meals, and glowing photos and references from teachers and children. Both organisations are growing: Eat My Lunch is currently raising money via a Pledge Me campaign, and KidsCan’s recently published accounts show them growing almost 33% in revenues over the year, with reserves increasing by almost $900k last financial year. KidsCan shows a growth in services provided (including the provision of a government contract), and measures the metrics of those initiatives they undertake. Although to be honest, it’s hard to get a decent insight into the workings of the organisations due to the high level nature of the financials provided.
However, a voice conspicuously missing in this issue is the parents. Now, as a parent I consider it my duty to make three lunches a day, forty weeks a year. Not a task I savour, but a responsibility I take seriously. Now, I’m not sure how I would feel if a bunch of well meaning middle class people did this for me, and suggested I was not capable of looking after my own kids. Would I leave the school and take my kids elsewhere where I felt respected as a parent? Do those actions increase my family’s dependence on others? Does it show the kids that someone else will look after their kids when their time comes? This stuff feels like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, rather than the fence at the top.
If the issue is that kids are hungry at school, then perhaps a better root cause analysis is needed – does the family simply not have enough money, in which case perhaps the charity could give the cash to the parent, or is the family making poor decisions with what they do have, in which case a more intensive wrap around service provision is required – which is really hard, expensive, will possibly result in some failure – but surely far more sustainable and likely to achieve those generational changes we all need to see than a band aid solution currently vogue. Supporting the family unit, I reckon, is the best way to make positive changes in our kids’ lives – and help those families take the step change they need to help support the next generation’s families through either more cash or wrap around services.
Now, this life changing stuff is hard. It takes money, time and perseverance to make tangible changes – and to know that those efforts have been effective. If we really want to make a difference in children’s lives, then we need to support those people who the children spend the most time with: the families – and there are some great charities which do this. Sadly, this sort of wrap around support will never get the public support it warrants, as it does not have the instant gratification of a lunch provided by a charity – or even worse a gang (what a fabulous recruitment model!).
But we also need to effectively measure what’s achieved. So rather than growing the number of lunches given away, does success, somewhat perversely, look like a REDUCTION in the number of lunches provided? This, to me anyway, comes back to really thinking through the mission of the organisation, and ensuring that there is strong evidence of success related to the cause of the symptoms, rather than simply easy to measure justifications of the existence of the organisation.
Solving these poverty issues and helping families make a sustainable generational change is not easy. And I don’t claim to know the answers: as an expert in nothing really perhaps I am way out of line: although as a bit of a geek I can’t help but feel these are simplistic half measures to complex issues. And I can’t help but feel that when my kids are parents, they’ll be wondering what was actually achieved with all those dollars thrown at these sorts of solutions.
Would love to talk with you if you think this is just a little bit interesting.