State Policies Should Lessen Effect Of Recession On Children

Jun 03, 2009

The annual release of the Child Well-being Index CWI) provides a composite look at national child well-being, as measured by 28 quality of life indicators in the areas of health, education, economic well-being, safety and behavioral concerns, social relationships, community connectedness, and emotional-spiritual well-being. The CWI provides a snapshot of how children from birth to age 17 are faring over time. Children's quality of life, according to the most recent report, peaked in 2002, fluctuated somewhat until 2007, and declined in 2008.

This year's report includes a prediction of the likely impacts of the current economic recession on child well-being in 2009 and 2010. Based on early data and historical trends, researchers predict a severe decline in overall child well-being:

  • Economic well-being will be particularly impacted with child poverty growing and median family income declining significantly.
  • Virtually all progress that has been made in family economic well-being since 1975 is expected to be eliminated.
  • Overall child health will decline and fewer children will participate in public preschool (the only measure of early childhood education in the index).

Worsening economic conditions for families may have greater impacts for young children. Experiencing poverty early in childhood can have strong negative effects that last into adulthood. Children under age 3 are most likely to live in poverty, while important physical, social, and cognitive development is occurring.

Yet, what happens in the future is not a foregone conclusion. These are challenging times in which financially-strapped states are proposing all too many cuts to basic services. Investments in children are an important component of our future economic recovery. Further, sustaining supports for young children and their families could help families weather the recession and ameliorate some of its detrimental impacts. Parents need help coping with stress and young children need continuous access to quality child care settings and health and mental health services. The inclusion of significant resources for early childhood in the Economic Recovery Act acknowledged the importance of supporting young children and their families through this crisis. States should reconsider the consequences of cutting services for young children when they are needed most. Policymakers should also ensure that recovery funds are spent wisely to meet the comprehensive needs of young children and families. State policies that support our youngest children can play a large role in redirecting the child well-being trend line.

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