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From our Fellows: Tackling Child Poverty Through Workforce Development


The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland’s fellowship, The Innovation Mission, is a powerful opportunity for accomplished professionals to advance their innovative ideas to change the trajectory of poverty in Cleveland. The five professionals we selected for The Innovation Mission began the fellowship in November 2017. We will be sharing their journey over the course of 18 months. Next up in our fellows series: Penny Smith, Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine at NEOMED and CEO of Alegria Technologies and Consulting.


I am the daughter of the first black journeyman to work at Kentucky Utilities. He attended segregated schools. He wanted to go to college, but it was a dream deferred. My dad is my hero.

Unfortunately, about 70 percent of African-American children don’t have their father in the home. I’m too scared to guess how many don’t believe their father is their hero.

Cleveland has the third-highest level of childhood poverty in the nation, with 47,000 children, or 53 percent, living in poverty in 2012. The childhood poverty rate in Cleveland is more than double the national average of 23 percent and Ohio’s statewide average of 24 percent.

Poverty can be an issue of the family. With more than 40 percent of children born to parents who are not married, child support is the financial safety net for the non-nuclear family. Twenty-five percent of mothers never receive a child support payment, and only 43 percent of custodial mothers (those who have custody) receive all of their payment. This leaves more than half of children of single or custodial mothers receiving only some or no financial support at all.

When parents pay their child support on a regular and consistent basis, children are more likely to graduate from high school, and less likely to become involved in the juvenile delinquency system. Child support paid by parents helps children in Cuyahoga County receive proper nutrition, medical care and other necessities.

In Cuyahoga County the list of child support orders recently totaled over 100,000. County officials report that about 60 percent were paying. So what is preventing 40 percent of non-custodial parents from paying child support in Cuyahoga County? Underemployment. Getting and keeping a job that pays the bills can be difficult, especially in non-custodial parents.

The current overall unemployment rate for Ohio is about 5.7 percent. Current job training and workforce programs generally are not targeted to non-custodial parents. If these individuals had better awareness of and access to gainful employment, they may be better motivated to support their child financially.

My father’s dream deferred became my gateway to three degrees, and my passion became to dedicate my career to ensuring that those with humble backgrounds and nontraditional circumstances are not only helped, but also respected.

I’ve spent 18 years in state and federal government, and I led a staff of 1,000 at the Kentucky state workforce development agency. My expertise in workforce development brought me to a possible solution to the child support dilemma: why don’t we offer apprenticeships and in demand certificate job training programs to ensure they are employed and able to make their financial contribution?

My project proposes to address women and children in poverty by researching technology and policy innovations to help break down the barriers that may prevent noncustodial parents from supporting their children. I’m excited for the prospect of what innovation and creativity can do, and I’m looking forward to growing with The Innovation Mission.

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Penny Smith



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