Associated Administrators of Los Angeles Weekly Update | Week of November 11, 2013 | http://bit.ly/HMiqQl
7 November 2013 :: Since 1989, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has published the KIDS COUNT Data Book which tracks the well-being of the country’s children. It includes data on early childhood development for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization, established in 1948 by Jim Casey, one of the founders of UPS, and his siblings. The Foundation’s website says that its mission is to foster public policies, human-service reforms and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. In developing the annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, sixteen indicators within four domains (economic well-being, education, health and family and community) are utilized to develop a picture of how America’s children are faring.
While there have been some modest gains in the education and health domains, some negative trends emerged in this year’s reportcontinued high unemployment and growing disparities among children by
income and family structure. Sadly, our youngest children are disproportionately affected by these trends. Even though national math and reading scores have steadily improved, with 23 percent of U.S. children living in poverty (a family of four with an income of $22,811), the achievement gap between affluent and low-income students has grown 40 percent since the 1960s. Unemployment remains high with more children found to live in concentrated poverty. More than 12 percent of children live in neighborhoods where 30 percent or more of the households have incomes below the poverty line, resulting in them experiencing more crime, violence and physical and mental health problems. A bright spot is that teenage pregnancies have declined and despite a reduction in employer sponsored health insurance, the overall rate of insured children has increased and mortality rates for children of all ages is falling.
This year’s report, The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success, emphasizes the need to invest in early childhood education and health. “All children need nurturing and plentiful opportunities to develop during their crucial first eight years,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Foundation. “Today's complicated world can strain families' ability to ensure their children are receiving all the stimulation and care they need to develop to their full potential.” The report makes three broad policy recommendations:
Support parents so they can effectively care and provide for their children. Increase access to high-quality birth-through-age-8 programs, beginning with investments that target low-income children. Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of children’s development and support their transition to elementary school.
It is common knowledge that children reap a multitude of benefits from quality preschool programs, yet less than half of 3- and 4-year-olds attend preschool and only a small percentage of poor children have access to programs of sufficient quality to overcome the developmental deficits associated with poverty and limited parental education. In more than half of the low-income families with children under age 8 in the study, the head of the household had a high school degree or less. In half of the higher-income families, the head of the household had at least a bachelor's degree. The report urges the country to invest in the care, health and education of our youngest children and their parents in order that they become healthy and productive adults who can strengthen the economy and enable the country to thrive. Poverty and the related factors, including inadequate nutrition, insufficient cognitive stimulation and unsafe environments, can suppress brain development resulting in measurable differences between children from low-income families and their middle-class peers. High-quality early childhood programs can mitigate some of these negative effects. While all children can benefit from high-quality early care and education, it is most important for children at highest risk of poor developmental outcomes. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman said that early childhood interventions are some of the best investments we can make as a nation.
The report does not recommend just throwing more money into existing strategies but suggests weaving together existing programs that support new parents with high-quality prekindergarten programs. The same strategies could be integrated into the early elementary years as well. Compared to the budgets for national security and foreign aid, the resources needed to improve opportunities for our youngest children are relatively modest. A focus on investing in programs with strong evidence of success will produce a return that far outweighs the costs.