We are leaving millions of children behind, but it doesn’t have to be this way

We are leaving millions of children behind, but it doesn’t have to be this way
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Sometimes it seems like we are running out of subjects for common ground as a country. So here’s one: our children. We love them and we want them to do well, in our families and as a nation.

To this, let’s add a second notion: if we want our country to have a prosperous future, we must set our kids up for success. Eventually, they will be the ones raising families, serving their communities, contributing to our economies and sustaining our democracy. If today’s children aren’t tomorrow’s achievers, this great country of ours won’t endure.

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Now, let me challenge you with a third notion: our kids will rise or fall together. No select group of them will be strong enough to ensure America thrives, if their counterparts are left behind.

 

Right now, we are leaving millions of children behind. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

To encourage thoughtful yet urgent action, the Annie E. Casey Foundation this week released Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children. This report lifts up a hard truth: the nation and the states are failing to do right by our children, especially children of color and children in immigrant families.

Race for Results examines 12 key measurements of children’s well-being — everything from babies born at normal birthweight and children who live in two-parent families to fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math proficiency — to develop a 1 to 1,000 composite index for kids by race and ethnicity. The index tells us how poorly (lowest) to how well (highest) well children are faring overall, which in turn suggests what might be their trajectory for success in work, school and life.

All of us, everywhere, can be doing more to provide opportunities to the children of each racial and ethnic group and to all of them. No index score is even close to 1,000, nationally or in any state.

At the same time, we see deeply troubling disparities among African-American (369), American Indian (413) and Latino children (429) compared to white (713) and Asian and Pacific Islander children (783) — persistent, significant disparities we cannot ignore.

Although some states are doing better than others, the general pattern is replicated across the map. Latino, African-American and American Indian children encounter obstacles that are blocking their path to success.

And Race for Results calls specific attention to the challenges faced by children in immigrant families — that is, children who are immigrants or who are living in a home where at least one parent is an immigrant. There are 18 million such kids. Some 84 percent of them are children of color and 88 percent are U.S. citizens.

This is the Casey Foundation’s second Race for Results report, and since we released the first one in 2014, there has been modest improvement in some areas. Yet despite the continued economic recovery, children living in African-American and Latino families have not experienced gains in wages or assets.

Many schools are not ensuring they have the opportunity to succeed. African-American children are twice as likely as others to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, Latino children are least likely to live with a household head who has a high school diploma and American Indian children are twice as likely as others to lack health insurance.

Clearly, the challenges our children face are substantial. Policymakers have a lot of work to do. Race for Results offers three recommendations for approaches that would benefit children of color, children in immigrant families and ultimately all kids.

First, keep families together and in their communities. This gives kids the best shot at meeting their goals and enables parents to meet their children's needs. For many immigrant families, this means ensuring child well-being is prioritized in immigration enforcement decisions.

Second, help children meet key developmental milestones. Kid's overall well-being is influenced by their environments. Let’s ensure their communities are supportive and healthy, with schools that are welcoming places for all families and equipped to support the needs of English language learners.

Third, increase economic opportunity for parents. Meaningful programs and policies that improve opportunities for low-income workers and address the needs of parents and their children have the added benefit of reducing the public costs of safety-net programs.

A quarter of children in America are in immigrant families. Just about half of all kids are children of color. And all our children have dreams. America’s future hinges on providing every child the opportunity to realize those dreams. We can and must do better than we are doing. In an often-divided nation, let’s agree on that.

Patrick McCarthy is president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which works to create a brighter future for all children in America by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities.