They are kids now — those young ones you see frolicking on the playground, gazing in awe at the goings on at the mall, acting in school plays.
In no time though, they will be adults, becoming the next generation of doctors and nurses to care for us when we ail, lawyers to help us resolve our conflicts, CEOs to run business conglomerates and other workers to meet the needs of society in the years ahead.
Looking forward, the quality of their work could hinge on the way we treat them now — their education, the health care they receive, their economic well-being, including support their parents provide or fail to provide, and the community they live in.
And, putting aside their future roles, they should be helped now because it is the right thing to do.
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An organization called the Annie E. Casey Foundation makes an annual assessment of how America’s children are faring. Our state ranked 15th, which, on the surface, is considered a favorable ranking.
But in the economic well-being category, Kansas suffered setbacks between 2008 and 2012. Children in poverty, one key indicator, increased from 15 percent to 19 percent. This rise is of special concern to Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group based in Topeka.
“Poor children will be especially vulnerable in this time of diminishing state revenues,” she said about one of the more troubling aspects of the report. “Public investments matter if we’re serious about lifting children out of poverty.”
“Changing the trajectory for poor children is about making sure they have access to adequate food, shelter, health care and early learning opportunities.”
Kansas did not fare well in other measures in the economic well-being category. On the rise were children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in households with a high housing cost burden, and teens not in school and not working.
The Casey report, available at acef.org, also shows that Kansas improved in education and health, and had mixed results in family and community.
“Even when we are making progress,” Cotsoradis observed, “those gains are failing to keep up with the rest of the nation. We’re falling behind instead of enacting smart policies that would change lives for the better.”
In Johnson County, poverty, and the children who are caught up in it, is being taken seriously. The county commission has made poverty its top strategic priority for next year.
There is data to support this decision. The county’s population of poor people jumped 144 percent between 2000 and 2012, far more than any of the other five counties in the metropolitan area. In a report in May, United Community Services of Johnson County said that 12,000 children under the age of 18 live in households with income below the federal poverty level. That is triple the number in 2000.
These children are at greater risk of lower cognitive development and educational attainment, the report stated, and are especially vulnerable during their preschool and early school years.
Among the consequences are higher school dropout rates, along with physical, behavioral and socio-emotional problems.
Children grow up, regardless of whether they are neglected or have access to good care. Now is the time for citizens to get involved with the private and public sectors to help provide children in need with the opportunities to succeed.
Freelance columnist Bob Sigman, a former member of the Editorial Board of The Kansas City Star, writes in this space once a month.