Yesterday, The Heritage Foundation and the Georgia Family Council co-hosted an event in Atlanta illustrating the profoundly negative consequences of social breakdown in the state and offering some promising solutions to restore human flourishing.

At “Breakthrough Georgia: Fighting Poverty and Restoring Society,” Heritage senior research fellow Robert Rector presented Georgia-specific research on child poverty and the role that marriage can play in reducing poverty rates.

Today, over 45 percent of births in Georgia are to unmarried mothers. The lack of social and financial stability that accompanies those single-parent households greatly increases their chances of experiencing poverty. One in four single-parent households are poor in Georgia, while only 7 percent of married families experience poverty. A child living in a single-parent home is five times more likely to experience poverty than a child in a married-parent household and marriage can drop the probability of child poverty by 84 percent.

Despite the effectiveness of marriage in guarding against poverty, very little information is available to at-risk communities on the benefits of matrimony. Rector suggested that community leaders and policymakers can correct this “information deficit” by promoting the social and economic benefits of marriage in schools, reducing marriage penalties in government welfare programs, and promoting life-planning and healthy relationship programs to those in communities where healthy marriage has almost disappeared.

Effectively addressing decades of marital decline and social breakdown can’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without the important work of civil society institutions such as family, churches, and civic organizations. That’s why Georgia Family Council introduced a new initiative yesterday that will combine effective public policy with community-based solutions to relieve suffering and promote human thriving.

“We want more Georgians doing well,” Randy Hicks, president of the Georgia Family Council, explained, “and we believe there’s a way to get there.”

He outlined the multi-year Breakthrough Georgia initiative that will produce policy and community recommendations that will “reflect the dignity and personal responsibility of the individual, promote family formation and self-sufficiency, and respect and protect the role of community and faith-based groups in meeting the needs of people.”

Integral to the success of Breakthrough Georgia, and any initiative to address human suffering, are the community-based organizations that offer novel insight into overcoming social breakdown and a unique ability to implement effective solutions to poverty at the local level. Yesterday’s symposium also featured three panelists who discussed the important work of community organizations and the potential of public–private partnerships in promoting greater human thriving.

Dr. Jerry Regier, chief operating officer of Calvin Edwards and Company and former cabinet secretary to two governors, discussed policy changes that would let community groups meet more of the needs that challenge government agencies. Regier spoke about some of his own experiences in government leadership that testify to the power of government partnering with private charitable groups to more effectively serve the community. In one instance, Regier explained, collaboration by both community-based groups and public-sector agencies with Oklahoma juvenile correction facilities helped dramatically reduce the juvenile recidivism rate.

Cheryl DeLuca-Johnson, executive director of Street GRACE, spoke to the unique position of community-based groups in galvanizing resources and building awareness of need. Street GRACE fosters community awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Atlanta and mobilizes churches and other nonprofits to prevent child prostitution. As a grassroots organization of 58 community partners and 1,700 active volunteers, Street GRACE is able to identify and fill what DeLuca-Johnson called “the gaps between the problem and what the government can provide.”

Tony Johns, director of community involvement at City of Refuge, Inc., discussed the importance of collaboration with other nonprofits and government agencies to the organization’s provision of regular holistic assistance to over 3,500 individuals living in poverty. City of Refuge’s position in “the Bluff,” one of the most crime-ridden areas of metro Atlanta, is a major factor in the organization’s success. By capitalizing on what Johns called “the commonality of compassion and awareness of need” among many groups’ efforts, City of Refuge is able to more effectively provide numerous integrated programs—from food, clothing, and shelter to job training, placement, housing, health care, and education.

The challenges created by social breakdown and the collapse of marriage are great, but the promise of effective policies and community-based solutions to alleviate suffering, promote wellbeing, and foster self-sufficiency is even greater.