Behind from the Start: How America's War on the Poor Is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children
Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2017
232 pages (hardcover), $29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-045903-1
Azzi-Lessing's social work career working with, advocating for, and researching and teaching about the nations' most vulnerable and impoverished families has culminated in her book Behind from the Start: How America's War on the Poor Is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children. In this book she seeks to educate students, practitioners, and policy makers about the complexity of the causes of intergenerational poverty as well as the challenges in the search for effective solutions. Despite her clear and apparent bias and passion for America's poorest and most vulnerable young children, Azzi-Lessing is unafraid to reveal the errant mindsets and decision-making practices on both sides of the political aisle and to name the contributions of academic research, an apathetic and racially biased public, and skillful marketing of ineffective programs in perpetuating the problems.
In the first chapter, Azzi-Lessing provides some history of her early work in the field, explains the purposes of the book, and offers an overview of the upcoming chapters. In chapter 2 she begins by describing the current state of the country and explaining the statistical comparisons made between the United States and other developed countries. She articulates three widely held misconceptions that underlie American policy, hinder anti-poverty efforts, and are harmful to young children living in poverty: (1) punishing poor parents will eventually break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, (2) government does too much to help poor families, and (3) education reform is enough to close achievement gaps.
Chapter 3 is devoted to a brief history of what the author describes as a "war on the poor" that grew out of national War on Poverty efforts. She describes how political narratives and "denigrating rhetoric" (p. 41) shifted the blame for poverty onto the poor themselves and racialized the view of poverty and welfare dependence. She briefly discusses implications of welfare reforms and suggests that young children suffer the most from these reforms.
In chapter 4, Azzi-Lessing draws from important developmental theories, including neuroscience, attachment, and resiliency theories, to connect the significance of the risks and the impact of poverty on the lives of infants...