We Can't Wait A Decade
Feb 14, 2008
Every day researchers, policymakers, providers and parents look for the policies and practices that will finally level the playing field, close the achievement gap, and improve the odds for at-risk children. Progress is being made. Yet, there is still a ways to go, particularly when looking at differences in child well-being by race, ethnicity and income. Fortunately, we have many of the solutions; we just need the will to invest in the right policies now.
The Foundation for Child Development's Child Well-Being Index (CWI) measures 28 quality of life indicators in the areas of health, educational attainment, economic well-being, safety and behavioral concerns, social relationships, community connectedness, and emotional-spiritual well-being. Recent analysis of the CWI found that racial and ethnic differences in child well-being decreased between 1985 and 2004.
While all children made gains in overall well-being, Black and Hispanic children experienced greater improvements and narrowed the gap in many areas between themselves and their White peers. The greatest gains occurred in two areas: safety-behavioral concerns (including measures of alcohol and drug use and being victim to violent crimes), and family economic well-being, with improvements in the latter resulting directly from reductions in poverty and increases in parental employment during the 1990s. In the analysis, researchers calculate how long it would take to eliminate ethnic and racial disparities in child well-being entirely, based on current investments: they conclude that it will take 18 years for Black children and 14 years for Hispanic children. If we are going to accelerate these improvements, substantial policy change is needed now.
The CWI includes a few measures of well-being specific to young children including rates of low birth weights and preschool enrollment. According to the CWI, the gap between Black and White 3- and 4-year olds enrollment in preschool has been eliminated and the gap between Hispanic and White children is one-third of the gap that existed in 1985. We are making progress in improving access but we must continue working to ensure that children of all backgrounds are receiving high-quality early learning experiences that support the full range of children's development and are responsive to their cultural and linguistic identities.
The rapidly changing demographics of the child population make it clear that improving the lives of our country's children requires policies that are deliberate in their focus on racial and ethnic minority groups, including immigrant communities. In early childhood, this means implementing policies that promote culturally responsive practices; appropriate teaching and assessment strategies for children whose home language is not English; recruiting and maintaining a culturally and linguistically diverse workforce that reflects the young child population; and ensuring that all early care and education providers are prepared to meet the needs of all children. Racial and ethnic disparities will not be eliminated without recognition of the differences that exist and targeted responses to improve the quality of life of minority groups.