Pandemic threatens to undermine Colorado’s progress in child well-being
Decades of tracking child well-being data show us that economic downturns have a big impact on kids. As Colorado responds to the pandemic and builds a plan for recovery, we’ve provided the latest data and research on health, education, early childhood and family economic security to offer important reminders on making sure kids are a priority.
This week we released the 2020 edition of KIDS COUNT in Colorado!, our annual report on child well-being. The data included were collected and analyzed before the coronavirus pandemic, but the report still offers important insights on the state of kids, as well as some of our fragile public systems that may be further threatened by public spending cuts.
We’ve been closely tracking child poverty data for 35 years. We know from past recessions that children are impacted long after economies have bounced back because they miss that critical investment at a crucial time. And we know that many families see low wages for years after most jobs have returned—that has a big impact on kids. The Great Recession saw more than 40,000 additional Colorado children fall into poverty, and it took our state’s child poverty rate five years to recover to its pre-recession level.
Think for a moment about what five years means in the life of a child.
- That’s the entire span of the critical early years when they are building their brains and learning social-emotional skills.
- It is nearly a whole elementary school education, when kids are learning to read and master the basics of math, science, art and more.
- And five years feels like a lifetime in the world of tweens and teens, when entire second languages are learned, advanced reasoning skills are built, career and college paths begin, and much more.
As we face a massive economic crisis we can look back on lessons from past downturns to ensure kids get what they need right now. That looks like prioritizing kids’ health, education and safety in public budgets, but it also means making sure families have basic economic security while parents are out of work.
The report, Creating a Path Forward for Colorado’s Kids, offers a snapshot of trends from before the pandemic. In areas where Colorado kids and families were already struggling, the pandemic has the potential to exacerbate existing challenges—and inequities along racial and ethnic lines will worsen if trends follow historical patterns. Key findings from the report include:
- Childhood poverty unchanged after 20 years: Statewide, 150,000 children (12 percent) lived in poverty in 2018, fewer than during the Great Recession but still a higher rate than in 2000. Additionally, 22,369 Colorado students experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, up 42 percent from 2008-2009.
- Health insurance gains stagnating:After years of historic progress toward reducing the number of Colorado kids without health insurance, uninsured rates have stagnated for Colorado children and participation in public insurance programs is down, with 21,000 fewer children enrolled in Medicaid or Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) in 2019 than 2018.
- Challenges accessing child care: Prior to the COVID pandemic, Colorado only had enough licensed capacity in its child care centers, family child care homes and preschools to serve 58 percent of young children who likely needed care. The pandemic has the potential to reduce Colorado’s child care capacity even further, harming our state economy’s ability to recover as families struggle to find consistent child care for their children.
- Full-day kindergarten success:The legislature’s expansion of full-day kindergarten boosted enrollment by nearly 12,000 students to a statewide participation rate of 97 percent in the 2019-2020 school year. Full-day programs are linked to better attendance, improved academic achievement and lower rates of grade retention.
- Opportunity for early childhood education:Research shows life-long benefits for children who attended preschool, yet only half of all 3- and 4-year-olds in Colorado attended any type of preschool program in 2018. Now more than ever, supporting access to quality early childhood education not only benefits children, but will also be critical to Colorado’s economic recovery as parents get back to work.
Here are 3 things you can do to support children and families right now—and for years to come:
- One of the biggest impacts every Coloradan can have in improving child well-being is to complete your census form and include every child in your household—no matter how young—on the form. On average, just over half of Colorado households have completed it, but in some rural and mountain counties response rates are around 10 percent. We need to get all kids counted in the census so we can ensure they get their share of federal dollars for schools, health and economic security benefits, and more. You can fill out your form online even if you haven’t received an invite in the mail or on your doorstep. Go to 2020census.gov to respond—it only takes a few minutes.
- Send your state and federal legislators a quick note asking them to prioritize kids and families in the COVID response and recovery. This simple reminder is crucial right now as they face a lot of tough decisions in the months ahead.
Donate to food banks and community resource centers that are helping children right now. Every day is an opportunity for growth and learning for all of us—and for kids it’s crucial that have those basic needs met to continue building that strong foundation.