“Childhood is a Journey, Not a Race.” Ever see that bumper sticker? I would add an asterisk and a footnote: For some the journey is mostly smooth sailing; for others, it’s a treacherous trip in a stormy sea. Too often, race determines which boat you get to board.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has been publishing its KIDS COUNT Data Book for 25 years. The annual report of state and national indicators of child well being is meant to inform lawmakers, government agencies, public policy advocates, private sector leaders, nonprofit service providers and the media about the status of kids and families in the U.S.
The latest KIDS COUNT policy report, “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children,” adopts a tone of urgency. It is a call to action to remedy racial inequities not just for the sake of children, and kids of color, but for the future of our country.
Race for Results measures differences in health, education, family environment, and neighborhood poverty. The report compares data in 12 areas from birth to adulthood: Adequate birth weight, preschool enrollment, 4th grade reading proficiency, 8th grade math proficiency, teenage non-pregnancy, on-time high school graduation, youth/young adult employment, college graduation, two-parent families, parents with diplomas, children living 200% above the poverty line, and living in areas with lower rates of poverty.
Notice that all of these factors skew positive. The focus is on what works – the optimal conditions – as opposed to negatives, which tend to marginalize and pathologize families and communities. By nearly every measure in the new Race for Results Index, children of color face conditions that limit their chances in life.
They are more likely to:
- Grow up in poor families
- Be raised by a single parent
- Have parents who haven’t gone to college
- Live in areas of concentrated poverty
- Be exposed to violence
- Experience toxic stress
- Lack health insurance
- Attend inferior schools
- Get suspended or expelled from school
- Be racially profiled by police
- Enter the juvenile justice system
- Be treated as adults by the criminal justice system
- Become a teen parent
- Struggle to secure employment
- Fall out of the middle class
Many of these factors are like heavy anchors that keep a child’s boat stuck in place. Some may even be holes that threaten to sink the ship.
Indeed, the report sounds an alarm, “The index scores for African-American children should be considered a national crisis.”
Children of color are projected to be the majority of kids by 2018. “Children are America’s most indispensable asset for the future,” the report reads. “As the country becomes more and more diverse, our future prosperity, global competititveness and community strength increasingly hinge on the success of children of color.”
“Our nation cannot afford to leave this talent behind in hopes that these problems will remedy themselves. We have the resources and the moral responsibility to ensure equitable opportunities for children of all races and ethnicities.”
Moral responsibility. This is strong language. The word action appears nine times in the report, but never as part of the politically polarizing “affirmative action.” Still, the report offers some recommendations, based on what we know about what works.
- Continue to collect and analyze racial and ethnic data.
- Use that data, racial equity impact assessments and opportunity impact statements, to target investments to programs that promote equal opportunity and lead to a more racially inclusive economy.
- Develop and implement promising and proven practices to improve outcomes for children and youth of color.
- Integrate economic inclusion strategies into all economic policies and workforce development efforts.
Race for Results authors admit that the indicators used are imperfect. For example, the percentage of children in preschool doesn’t tell us anything about the quality of their early childhood education. There’s also no disaggregation of data by gender, so the report lacks actionable information about the specific challenges facing girls and boys of different racial and ethnic groups. In nearly every measure, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are doing better - and sometimes much better - than whites, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. Why?
That’s just one of many questions and story ideas that bubble up from Race for Results. Here are some more:
- In some cases place matters more than race. Children in some states fare better than others across the board. What’s going on in these state’s economies and governments that may be making a difference?
- Why are children in some Native American tribes doing better than others?
- What are Racial Equity Impact Assessments and Opportunity Impact Statements? How are they being used and to what effect?
- Are school districts in your state using weighted student funding, also known as “fair student funding” to allocate additional resources to schools and communities of concentrated poverty. Why or why not? What’s the impact?
- Volunteers of America has a program called “Look Up and Hope” to support children who have incarcerated parents. Is that program functioning in your community?
- Have you heard of the Parents and Teachers program, which educates parents about child development and parenting? How is this and other home visitation programs making a difference for families near you?
- What do decisionmakers (elected officials, business leaders, philanthopic institutions) in your community intend to do with the new information and the call to action in this latest KIDS COUNT report?
Race for Results reminds us that the work of racial equity belongs to everyone regardless of race. That all of our futures are inextricably linked together. A rising tide must lift all boats.