One of the most disturbing underbellies of poverty is child abuse. When you can’t put enough food on the table, when the car is out of gas and your job doesn’t pay a living wage — or due to the pandemic you don’t even have a job — a whining child can become a target.
The April 10 front page Register-Star article pointed out that Columbia, Rensselaer and Washington counties are experiencing reported child abuse numbers that are among the highest in the state, and remember these are the numbers that are reported. Given the pandemic and change in home visits by state child welfare workers it is more than likely that the numbers are significantly higher.
President Biden just signed the massive Covid relief bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, which includes significant aid for our states and our children. Nationwide, it will lift many children out of poverty. How can these relief dollars — which have already been included in the New York State budget — be used most effectively to help our children and families?
The Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks all 50 states on how children are doing in four areas: Economic Well Being; Health; Education; and Family and Community. Known as “Kids Count,” it’s an annual scorecard on the state of kids across our country. New York ranked 28th overall in 2020, which isn’t great. (By comparison, Connecticut consistently ranks in the top 10, Louisiana is 48th, Mississippi is 49th, New Mexico ranks dead last.)
But when you start to disaggregate the Casey Foundation data, it paints a more nuanced picture, one that allows for more targeted investment of Rescue funds. The Casey study has four over-arching categories that build to the overall national ranking. In Education and Health, New York ranked 18th and 12th respectively. Not bad. But in Family and Community we’re 36th, which is bad, but not as bad as our ranking in Economic Well Being-39th.
If you dig deeper into the Casey data, it presents an even clearer picture of where New York is most challenged. For example, 38 percent of our kids live in households with a high housing cost burden and 19 percent live in poverty (the federal poverty guideline rates a family of four making less than $26,500 as impoverished). Under Family and Community, Casey reports that 35 percent of our children live in single-parent households and 16 percent of New York’s kids live in high-poverty areas.
These numbers paint a clear picture of where help is needed. For example, dollars spend on effective housing and community development programs could have a significant return on investment as families experience greater long-term security.
The budget has passed and now comes the task of distributing dollars. If the money is allocated in a fashion that pays attention to the Kids Count report, we can focus needed dollars in ways that maximize improvements to child and family well-being. By investing those dollars in the areas that can lift children out of poverty, we have the opportunity to not only save money in the long run but also save children.
Diana Urban is President of Protecting Kids and Pets Partnership and is a former Connecticut State Legislator and Chair of the Committee on Children. She now resides in Chatham.