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Poverty & Equity Thought Leadership

The Social, Emotional and Economic Impact of COVID on Women

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we remember the sacrifices made by women, for women to make our communities, our country, and our world more inclusive.

From its inception, Families First has a long history of serving women and helping them build resilience and gain access to mental health support, coaching, early education, parenting skills, and supportive housing to move from surviving to thriving. Lucetta M. Lawson and Sarah L. Grant founded the Leonard Street Orphans Home in 1890 on what is now the Spelman College campus. Today, approximately 72% of clients we serve are women or families led by women. 

COVID-19 has had staggering economic and social impacts, hitting women especially hard. From childcare to home schooling to work-life balance, women have shouldered a disproportionate share of the COVID burden. Women’s participation in the labor force is at its lowest point in 30 years; and income gains made by Black women since the 2009 recession were mostly wiped out during the pandemic.

At Families First, we believe that resilience is the foundation of building strong communities and helping women overcome the additional burdens placed on them since the start of COVID. We provide prevention and intervention techniques that help strengthen families, as well as build resiliency, to better manage the challenges they may be facing. 

Our evidence-informed resilience scoring model helps Families First assess a client’s needs, pair them with a family “quarterback” we call a Navigator and provide supportive services across a variety of impact areas that help improve individual outcomes while strengthening and stabilizing families. The Navigator screens families for resilience to measure their access to primary health and mental health services; their connectedness — their social health; and their future and goal orientation. Navigators then partner with the family to develop and monitor a plan of action that can include mental and behavioral healthcare, parenting support, connections to job training and placement as well as food and housing support. The Navigator stays in a family’s life providing aftercare once treatment is complete, so our families have someone to turn to as they put their newly strengthened resilience skills to work while helping their children thrive. 

The pandemic surged mental health concerns with a disproportionate impact on women and girls. Thirty-five percent of women have moderate to severe levels of depression compared to 19% of males. Through our work, over 6,000 parents and their children will receive our mental health and coaching services over the next three years with the goal of increasing their access to livable-wage jobs and higher education

Ebony Williams is a powerful example of how our Navigators work with families to create a comprehensive plan that builds resilience and opens doors to economic empowerment. When untreated mental health issues led to unemployment for Ebony Williams, she and her children became homeless. Despite the profound effects that this experience had on all their lives, with the help of Families First, she and her children were able to get the assistance they needed to get on the path to resilience, including college scholarships for her two oldest children. Then the pandemic hit, and everything changed. All her children were back home. From school to employment to mental health and anxiety, it felt like they had hit another setback. 

However, with the team at Families First providing navigation and resilience services and being a constant support system, this family is continuing to overcome the challenges of the past two years and stay on a path to sustainable resilience including graduation to the FLOW program and on the path to homeownership. FLOW is a partnership with Atlanta Housing and the City of Atlanta to provide tenant-based housing assistance for individuals and families that successfully “graduate” from living in permanent supportive housing arrangement to stable housing with light-touch supportive services. 

Since we were founded 132 years ago, we’ve been focused on creating better lives for girls, women, and their families. Over the years, we’ve been able to expand our outreach and services, as well as partner with other organizations, to ensure that we’re able to provide the full continuum of services needed to build a path to resilience and allow women to create a new, brighter history for themselves and their families.


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