KIDS COUNT Report Underscores Need for Holistic Approach to Supporting Child Well-being

By Andrew Mulinge

The 25th edition of a key report tracking the well-being of children highlights the critical importance of taking a holistic approach to addressing the needs of children. The 2014 annual KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, on 16 indicators of child well-being that fall under four categories: 1) economic well-being; 2) education; 3) health; and 4) family and community Each area of focus in the report complements the others. So, to implement change in the overall well-being of children and youth, there needs to be substantive efforts to address issues related to public health, socioeconomics, education, and community development. 

Organizations like the Harlem Children Zone have yielded positive results by using a holistic methodology that includes providing educational and social services, stabilizing families, preventing homelessness, and promoting healthy lifestyles throughout Harlem.  More cities and states across the country can benefit greatly from addressing their children’s well-being through a holistic lens.

Considering the disproportionate outcomes for children and youth across several racial backgrounds, it is also imperative to address the well-being of children and youth through a racial lens. Despite gains during recent decades for youth of color, African-Americans, Latinos and American Indian youth continue to experience negative outcomes that are at times much higher than the national average, and particularly higher than non-Hispanic Whites.

Those living in low-income communities consistently underperform in the classroom. The report highlighted categories such as eighth grade math proficiency, fourth grade reading proficiency and on-time graduation rates to measure academic performance. Those living in areas of higher poverty were more likely to have negative outcomes on academic measurements.

However, the report showed encouraging data over the course of the last several years on high school graduation, which can lead to higher paying jobs and a higher standard of living.  Today’s high school students are graduating on time at an 81 percent rate, which is an all-time high and also a significant 8 percent improvement from the 2005-2006 school year. Although these are encouraging numbers, the disproportion across racial groups is still explicitly shown in the data year after year.

Children whose parents lack high school diplomas and live in single-parent households are not as likely to have access to health insurance. The report, however, found another encouraging trend:  the education level of parents has been steadily increasing over the past several years. In 1990, 22 percent of children lived in families with parents who did not have a high school diploma; by 2012, the figure had declined to 15 percent.

Although the report shows data that is discouraging and some data that signify areas of growth, the bottom-line is that more can still be done to circumvent the ongoing racial and socioeconomic disparities that contribute to children’s overall well-being. The more we as a nation invest in all areas of the community, the more we will begin to see the outcomes we desire for our children.  

Read more about the KIDS COUNT report here.