Monday, July 28, 2014

New KIDS COUNT Data Highlights the Importance of Equity-Focused Work

The 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, marks the 25th edition of the report that details how children are faring, both at the state and national level. Born as a CSSP project in 1990, the national KIDS COUNT initiative was conceptualized as a way to help local communities, states and national leaders make better informed policy and practice decisions in order to improve the economic, health, educational, family and community well-being of America’s children. The data book continues to use an index of key indicators, allowing for the tracking of trends over time.

National data from before and after the recession indicate that while children experienced across-the-board gains in the areas of education and health, they did experience some setbacks in the domains of economic well-being and family/community factors. Broadly speaking, more children today are living in poor, single-parent families in areas of concentrated poverty, where parents lack secure employment while experiencing higher housing costs than in past years.

In addition to national data, the new KIDS COUNT report provides state profiles which detail how a state has done on each of the 16 indicators and provides domain-specific ranks in addition to how the state ranks in overall child well-being. There is, of course, variety both between states and even within the different domains for a single state as resources, policies and funding priorities vary considerably across the country. Massachusetts, for example, who ranks first in terms of overall well-being, is ranked first in education indicators, second on health indicators, eighth in the family and community domain and drops to thirteenth in terms of economic well-being.

Unfortunately, even within the areas of improvement, a concerning amount of racial inequity remains. On more than half of the indicators examined, African American, American Indian and Latino children continue to experience negative outcomes at rates that are higher than the national average. In addition, these children fare worse than their white peers on 75 percent of indicators. The area in which they are keeping pace are the indicators surrounding health, indicating that recent policy efforts to increase access to health insurance, prenatal care and combat substance use have been effective.

Given the dramatic shift in the ethnic composition of children in the U.S., these trends are disturbing. The percentage of white children dropped from 69 percent in 1990 to 53 percent in 2012 while the percentage of Latino children doubled, from 12 to 24 percent during the same period. In fact, it is estimated that by 2018, children of color will be the majority. If racial inequities continue to exist at current levels, a distressing picture of our long-term economic and social future begins to emerge. In order to change the trajectory, we have to address the reality that too many children of color begin life with multiple disadvantages.

Data sources like the annual KIDS COUNT report provide an invaluable resource that can help galvanize and inform effective solutions at the community level. Comparing local data to state and national indicators enables communities to understand the nature and extent of both assets and challenges. Disaggregating data based on variables such as race, ethnicity, gender and age provides an even more nuanced picture of how different populations are faring, offering critical information to community change actors working to address disparities and target strategies to create better results for all children and families.

For more information on CSSP’s organizational commitment to equity, see our 2013 Annual Report: Equity and Social Change. For tools on how to use data in your community change efforts, see the Building Neighborhood Capacity Resource Center.

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