All of Washington’s children could have the opportunity to thrive in school and life if policymakers took key steps to improve economic security and remove barriers to success, our new report finds.
State of Washington’s Kids 2016, co-published with the Children’s Alliance through our Washington KIDS COUNT partnership, shows that children are better able to prosper when such basic needs are met as a secure place to sleep at night and food on the table. Yet four out of 10 kids in Washington state live in families that struggle to meet these basic needs, according to the report. This economic insecurity puts kids at greater risk of falling behind throughout their life – in school, jobs, personal health, and civic engagement. What’s more, structural racism – which exists because of a historical legacy of discriminatory practices in housing, finance, and education – means that kids of color find themselves on increasingly unequal and unstable footing.
State of Washington’s Kids shows that:
- The number of homeless children is up by nearly 15,000 since 2008, and is particularly high among students of color.
- Just four in 10 children entering kindergarten are prepared in all six areas of readiness: social, emotional, physical, cognitive, literacy, and math. Only one in three American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students are prepared in all six areas of readiness.
- In all but two Washington counties, the number of child care slots available for hardworking parents is less than the number of children in need of such care.
There is plenty of reason for hope. The rate of low birthweight babies in our state has remained quite low – below 6.4 percent – since 2005. The number of children with health insurance increased to 96 percent in 2014. And on-time high school graduation rates in Washington have held steady, above 75 percent since 2010.
Nevertheless, much work remains to be done. We cannot achieve our promise of a brighter future for all children when so many kids of color are being left behind. Our report offers two multi-faceted solutions to provide all of Washington’s children with the opportunity to get ahead:
- Take meaningful steps to undo structural racism and the system of exclusionary practices and policies that breed inequities for kids of color. Replace them with solutions that enable kids from all backgrounds to succeed. One way policymakers can advance inclusivity is to use racial equity measurement tools to review the impact of proposed legislation that seeks to close the opportunity gap. [See our racial equity toolkit for one resource to accomplish this.] Another essential step is to work directly with leaders in communities of color to learn from them about recommended strategies to redress inequities.
- Invest in the success of whole families by recognizing that the well-being of children is inextricably tied to the well-being of their parents. Kids do better when their parents do better. That’s why two-generation approaches to poverty prevention in particular offer a good model. Proposed legislation focusing on intergenerational poverty that was introduced in the 2016 legislative session was a good start. Further, Initiative 1433, now gathering signatures for the November ballot, would smartly raise the take-home pay for the working parents of thousands of Washington children. And by providing paid sick and safe leave, it would also help Washington families by ensuring that workers don’t lose wages when they need to take care of themselves or their children when they’re sick.
Taking steps to implement these common-sense solutions would set Washington’s children up to have a healthy start in life, have their basic needs met, and succeed in school and life. We’ll build a better future for all of us if we take the right steps for our children now.