Newly released 2021 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! highlights pandemic’s impact on Colorado kids
This week we released the 2021 edition of our signature report, KIDS COUNT in Colorado!, which examines how children and families fared during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and surveys conducted by Colorado state agencies and nonprofits, the report includes data showing that the global public health crisis has had widespread implications for children’s economic security, physical and mental health, early learning opportunities, and educational experiences.
The data included in the report illustrate the pandemic’s far-reaching effects on Colorado kids, from increased housing instability and hunger to difficulty accessing health care, child care, preschool and K-12 education. Nearly half of all Colorado households with children reported a loss of employment income since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and as many as one in five reported little or no confidence they would be able to make their next housing payment on time. The state also saw steep declines in the number of young children enrolled in services such as preschool or Early Intervention.
The new hardships posed by the COVID-19 crisis have the potential to exacerbate the challenges Colorado families were already facing before the pandemic began.
“Even before the pandemic struck, too many kids and families in Colorado were facing challenges such as poverty, mental health struggles, or difficulty finding high-quality child care,” said Kelly Causey, President & CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “The pandemic has made it impossible to ignore the flaws in our economic and social systems that have long kept many Colorado kids and families from living healthy, happy lives. In doing so, it has also given us an opportunity to reimagine how we support the kids and families who call Colorado home.”
Data included in the report show that while the pandemic’s effects were felt across demographic groups, families of color were disproportionately harmed as the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated longstanding racial inequities in the economy. Colorado families of color were significantly more likely than white families to report losing employment income, or face uncertainty about whether or not they would be able to pay their rent or mortgage throughout the pandemic.
The report, At a Tipping Point: Building Stronger Systems for Colorado Kids in the Aftermath of COVID-19, offers policy recommendations designed to mitigate the negative effects of the ongoing pandemic on Colorado’s kids. Recommendations include maximizing access to basic cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and making long-term investments in adequate salaries for early childhood professionals to strengthen the state’s child care system.
“Children have sacrificed so much of their lives to keep adults safe since March of 2020,” said Sarah Hughes, Vice President for Research Initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “As Colorado weathers another increase in COVID-19 cases, our state’s leaders must take action to ensure kids don’t spend another day missing out on the economic, health, and educational support that they deserve.”
The KIDS COUNT report also offers a snapshot of trends from before the pandemic. Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Colorado’s historic progress on kids’ health insurance coverage was beginning to erode. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of Colorado children without health coverage increased by 10,000 kids, leaving 73,000 without health coverage as the world entered the worst public health crisis in a century. Given the high rates of unemployment driven by the pandemic’s economic impact, Colorado could see even more damage to its progress toward getting all kids covered.
Other data trends noted in the report include the following:
- Colorado households with children struggled to afford sufficient amounts of food during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between late April 2020 and March 2021, an average of 10 percent of Colorado households with kids reported not having enough food to eat in the past week. Rates of food insufficiency were highest among Black or African-American families and Hispanic or Latino families, merely one example of how the pandemic exacerbated longstanding racial inequities and disproportionately harmed families of color.
- The COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread disruption to important early learning and development experiences. The number of children enrolled in school district preschools in Colorado fell by 23 percent between fall 2019 and fall 2020, with some racial and ethnic groups experiencing even larger declines. Referrals to Early Intervention services also dropped dramatically during the early weeks of the pandemic, falling by 63 percent during the first two weeks of March 2020.
- Enrollment in public schools fell for the first time in decades. As the pandemic raged on in the fall of 2020, Colorado public schools saw their first decline in student enrollment since 1988, with a 3.3 percent decrease in enrollment from 2019. The enrollment decrease reflected an overall decline of more than 30,000 students in Pre-K through grade 12 across the state.
The 2021 KIDS COUNT report also examines data on maternal mortality, housing instability, and adolescent behavioral health.
The annual KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report tracks the well-being of Colorado children statewide and at the county level. The 28th annual report includes data and research on kids in the areas of health, early childhood, K-12 education, and family economic security. The report is a complement to the national KIDS COUNT Data Book produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which was released in June.