How are the Kids?

“How are the kids?” A nice conversational question. But, let’s be serious for a second. How are the nation’s kids doing?

Each year, The Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes a report called the KIDS COUNT Data Book. The publication uses 16 indicators in 4 categories (economic well-being, education, health and family and community) to assess the overall well-being of our nation’s children. It also ranks the states to provide insight into where improvements are needed.

As you might imagine, this year’s report focuses on the economic recovery and the lingering effects of the recession.

The child poverty rate has remained stubbornly high. At 22 percent in 2013, it was still several percentage points higher than before the recession.

— The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). KIDS COUNT Data Book. Baltimore, MD. Retrieved from www.aecf.org.

Sometimes statistics can make your eyes glaze over. But, when you stop and understand that this means nearly a quarter of our nation’s children live in disadvantaged conditions – it is alarming. The report offers some hope – that the statistics regarding job creation and the economic recovery have improved since the latest available data for the 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book. That’s encouraging, and I look forward to seeing the child well-being data as it comes out over the next 2 years. However, just waiting around for the economic recovery is not really an answer. Even with a full economic recovery, poverty and inequality will still exist, unless we take action.

We must renew our commitment to one of our nation’s primary values: Individuals who are willing to work hard should be able to provide for their families. We don’t need to accept the current proliferation of low-quality jobs as inevitable.

— The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). KIDS COUNT Data Book.

It seems like common sense that poverty and inequality play a major role in outcomes for children.

Children raised in low-income families have less access than their higher-income peers to enriching early experiences, such as high-quality preschool, books and a rich language environment at home.

— The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). KIDS COUNT Data Book.

Yet, too often poverty and inequality feel overlooked in discussions about education. We talk a lot about teachers, tests and school budgets. These are all important pieces to the puzzle, but the puzzle cannot be completed without talking about economic inequality. Is it that we simply can’t imagine fixing the economic inequalities that exist today? Is it easier to blame low-income parents for not providing a rich home environment than it is to help them tackle the extra burdens they face every day?

The best way to facilitate optimal outcomes for today’s children is to address their needs, while providing tools and assistance to their parents.

— The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). KIDS COUNT Data Book.

There are a lot of great teachers out there doing what they can with the resources they have. And, there are educational innovators trying to change things for the better. But, what can we – mere citizens – do to improve the outlook for our nation’s children?

Here are a handful of ways you can make a difference:

1. Write to your legislator
Your ideas do matter. All it takes is one great idea voiced to someone in power. Yes, the letters we send to our politicians are read. Plus, more people speaking up about inequality, education and child well-being improves the chance that the politically powerful will pay attention.

2. Volunteer
There are many opportunities to volunteer at the local level – in schools and libraries and with local charities that address specific needs in your community. Are you great at math? You could become a tutor. Interested in improving your city’s literacy rates? There’s probably a group you can join that’s working on it, and they likely have a website.

3. Start a non-profit
Is no one in your town working on the issue that’s important to you? Start your own group. Here is a link to a helpful blog post at the U.S. Small Business Administration titled How to Start a Non-Profit Organization.

4. Stay involved with your kids and encourage them to help others
The first 3 ideas probably seem like they require a large time commitment, and in the case of starting your own non-profit, that’s very true. The easiest thing we could do, however, is to look at how we treat each other. Are we sending the message to our kids to help others when they are in need? If your child came home and talked to you about a classmate who was struggling at school or at home, would you largely ignore it or would you help your child find a way to help their classmate?

In what ways do you help improve the lives of our nation’s children? Teachers and parents – what is the most helpful thing an individual could do to help you make improvements in the lives of the children you care for? Let’s talk about it in the comments section.

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