By John Michaelson
Minnesota News Connection
ST. PAUL, Minn. (July 22, 2014) — When it comes to the well-being of children, Minnesota is once again one of the best places in the nation, although challenges remain.
Stephanie Hogenson, research and policy director with Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, says despite the state being ranked fifth overall in the 25th annual Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, there was a steep increase in children living in single-parent families and in high poverty neighborhoods. The report also found high disparity rates for the some of the state’s minority children.
“Children of color and Native American children are less likely to attend preschool,” says Hogenson. “They’re more likely to live in poverty and they’re more likely to have poor education outcomes in categories such as reading by third grade and graduating on time.”
To close those gaps, Hogenson says Minnesota should ensure policies and programs that serve children of color and Native American children are expanded, are culturally relevant, and address the economic needs of those families.
More specifically, Hogenson says providing more children with access to health care would help improve long-term outcomes. Another key is increasing high-quality early education, which she says has a two-pronged benefit for families.
“Early education allows parents to work so their child has a safe, stable place to go while the parent or both parents are out of the house,” says Hogenson. “It also supports the child and improves academic outcomes, increasing their potential for college.”
One effort already finding success is the Freedom School program from Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, which Hogenson says targets children of color and low-income youth to reverse summer learning loss.
“It improves their reading ability and their self esteem,” she explains, “and we know those are two categories that can really improve outcomes for children.”
Progress is also being made in the teen birth rate, which is now at a historic low. Death rates for children and teens are also down because of medical advances and increased usage of seat belts, car seats and bike helmets.