New report highlights racial wellbeing gaps between Iowa’s children

Some disparities rooted in areas beyond education, study shows

Published: April 2 2014 | 7:07 am - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:04 pm in

As Iowa’s child population continues to grow more ethnically diverse, a new report shows gaps in wellbeing between youth of color and their white counterparts.

Iowa ranks 17th in the nation when it comes to overall wellbeing for white children according to the “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children” policy report, which representatives for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count project released Tuesday. Iowa drops to 18th place for Latino youth and 30th for their black counterparts.

“It’s definitely a wakeup call for the state for what we can be doing for children,” said Mike Crawford, director of Iowa Kids Count.

A Kids Count report from June 2013 placed Iowa seventh best in the nation in terms of raising children, an increase from the eighth-place standing the state notched in 2012, but Crawford noted that the Race for Results study used different indicators for its findings.

The new report is based on 12 measurements, including normal birthweight, two-parent families, teen pregnancy rates and early childhood education enrollment for children ages 3 through 5.

Crawford also noted that Iowa’s relatively homogeneous ethnic makeup has played a role in its continued high rankings when it comes to child wellbeing, which in some way can serve as a red herring.

“In some ways it can also hurt us because when we go to the Legislature and say we’ve got some problems here … it’s hard for them to listen because they look at the scores and see that we’re doing so well,” he said. “It can have a detrimental effect on what we’re trying to do.”

Many of the racial disparities Crawford found troubling – such as children living in poverty and low-poverty areas or people age 25 to 29 who hold associate degrees or higher – had roots beyond education.

“I think the economic side is so important,” he said, noting that access to prenatal care can often be the first step in making sure children are healthy enough to be at their best and “ready to learn” when they enter school.

Crawford’s recommendation to bridge the divides in Iowa fell in line with those outlined in the national report. Among them are a push for more communities to tailor and adopt dropout and teen pregnancy prevention programs that have succeeded elsewhere as well as raising the minimum wage and providing employment opportunities in places where they are sparse.

Crawford also called for more specific data regarding child wellbeing on the national and local levels, even down to neighborhoods, to isolate issues and then rally the community around finding and enacting solutions while leaning, if necessary, on state and federal support.

“I think you also have to target areas where there is more need required,” he said. “Communities can only do so much financially to help. That’s where the state comes in. … Different communities are going to have different problems and different approaches to solve those problems.”

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