According to a policy analysis published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, child poverty in America is at its highest point in 20 years. Among other findings, the report reveals that 1 in 4 children don’t have enough to eat; 7 million children don’t have health insurance; 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese; 1 in 5 experiences a mental health disorder; a child is abused or neglected every minute; and 5 children are killed daily by firearms.
Despite this overwhelming need and the fact that children account for 24% of the overall U.S. population, only 8% of federal expenditures are focused on children.
“It shouldn’t be this hard for kids to grow and thrive in the world’s richest, most powerful nation,” said co-author Bruce Lesley, president of child advocacy organization First Focus.
We know that the effects of poverty are most destructive in a child’s early years. Here in Durham, nearly 30% of children birth to 5 live in poverty. Poverty has far-reaching consequences for young children, negatively impacting brain development, physical and emotional health, and educational achievement. These are key building blocks for productive adult lives, and that foundation begins with a child’s earliest experiences.
In response, the Partnership leads initiatives that address the multi-faceted effects of poverty. Early intervention and two-generation strategies that serve both parent and child create better futures for everyone. By increasing access to high quality care for low-income children, we buffer toxic stress and promote healthy development; parents, in turn, can work or go to school. We fund evidence-based programs that address mental health and behavioral issues, help prevent child abuse and neglect, empower parents through education and support, and encourage healthy physical habits through nutrition and outdoor learning environments that combat childhood obesity. We know that this work is making an impact.
The JAMA Pediatrics report calls upon the federal government to set goals for eliminating child poverty and put strong measures in place to protect our young citizens. Their recommendations include expanding support for policies and programming similar to what we do here in Durham to serve our community’s young children and families.
“Overwhelming, bipartisan support by American voters exists for measures that would enhance our nation’s investments in and focus on children’s health and well-being… The needs of our nation’s children have never been greater.”
As we are in the midst of election season and prepare for the NC General Assembly to enter its session, please consider how our legislative leaders can better support early childhood issues. Visit the North Carolina Child Care Coalition’s action center and sign up for our advocacy updates to get more information on how you can become a champion for young children.