Prof. Azzi-Lessing Takes a Critical Look at America's War on the Poor

March 22, 2017

Behind from the Start book coverWheelock Professor of Social Work Lenette Azzi-Lessing is a scholar who has spent most of her career on the front lines of programs and policies affecting poor families with children. In her acclaimed new book, "Behind from the Start," she connects the dots between our public and political discourse and our public policies, and examines their effects on poor young children.

Dr. Azzi-Lessing examines what lies behind the stubbornly high rate of poverty among young children in the U.S. and the resulting consequences, both for the children themselves and for America as a whole. Taking liberal and conservative politicians and pundits to task in equal measure, she explains how the U.S. is not doing enough to interrupt the poverty cycle and why programs such as universal Pre-K, Head Start, and home visiting are inadequate to the cause.

Today there are nearly six million children under the age of five living in poverty in the world's richest country. "Behind from the Start" (Oxford University Press, 2017) examines the link between America's shaming, blaming, and marginalizing of poor parents, and our punitive welfare policies that jeopardize the life chances of vulnerable young children, thereby maintaining the cycle of chronic poverty. Research has shown that the experience of poverty in the first years of life is particularly harmful, blunting physical and brain development, increasing the risk for chronic health issues and injury, and limiting a person's lifelong capacity for learning and success.

In debunking the myths that help perpetuate the cycle of poverty in the world's richest country, Dr. Azzi-Lessing reveals how negative public and political discourse regarding poor families impacts the poorly conceived and fragmented programs intended to support them, which have in turn failed to meet their aims. She considers the cultural and political forces that contribute to inter-generational poverty in the U.S., the consequences for the millions of young children in families stuck at the bottom of our economy, and the beneficial impacts that would be felt country-wide in fixing some of these persistent problems.

Prof. Lenette Azzi-LessingDrawing upon knowledge from diverse fields, including neuroscience, media studies, and public policy, as well as the author's experiences on the front lines as a practicing social worker, "Behind from the Start" offers a fresh take on this shameful problem and its solutions.

The book has been described as "A Tour de force" by J. Lawrence Aber, PhD, Willner Family Professor in Psychology and Public Policy, New York University, and as a "must-read for advocates hoping to build a brighter future for American children" by Pamela C. High, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, W. Alpert School of Medicine, Brown University.

Learn more or buy a copy on the Oxford University Press website or on Amazon.com.

See Dr. Azzi-Lessing's full bio.

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