R.I. KIDS COUNT Factbook: Pandemic had ‘devastating’ impacts on children, families

PROVIDENCE – The COVID-19 pandemic has had “devastating” impacts on children and families’ economic well-being, physical and mental health, safety, access to education and educational outcomes, according to Rhode Island KIDS COUNT’s 2021 Factbook, released Monday.

Furthermore, the report stated that employment loss that was caused by the pandemic is expected to impact economic mobility within low-income households, having devastating long-lasting effects on children in poverty – especially in Black and Hispanic households.

This year’s Factbook, which analyzes improvements and declines in the well-being of the Ocean State’s 203,575 children, looked at indicators that are grouped into five interrelated categories – family and community, economic well-being, health, safety, and education. There were 70 total indicators of child-well being noted in the book.

According to this year’s Factbook, one in five renters reported that they could not keep up with their rent during the pandemic, with Black renters and families with children facing the “greatest hardships in housing stability” nationally.

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While Rhode Island voters approved a $65 million housing and community opportunity bond this year, the state “still does not have a permanent funding stream for affordable housing,” the Factbook stated.

Additionally, the rate of child food insecurity in Rhode Island will increase to 27% in Rhode Island due to the pandemic, the report found.

The report also said that mental and behavioral health calls to triage service Kids’ Link RI increased in 2020. Kids’ Link RI received 4,849 calls last year during the pandemic, an increase of 22% from 2019, the Factbook said. There were also fewer routine vaccinations and well-visits early on in the pandemic, the Factbook said, but grants from the Pediatric Primary Care Relief Program helped increase access to needed care, including routine vaccines.

Child care programs also faced financial difficulties, according to the Factbook. On Oct. 1, 2020, 8,948 children in Rhode Island were enrolled in public kindergarten, which is an 11% decrease from the previous year. Nationally, kindergarten enrollment has decreased between 13% and 16% from pre-pandemic levels.

“Too many Rhode Island families were struggling to survive economically before the pandemic. Now that we are turning the curve on the pandemic, we need to ensure that long-term supports are in place that will yield the best outcomes for Rhode Island’s children and families, particularly the most vulnerable who were hardest hit by the pandemic and the resulting economic impact,” KIDS COUNT Executive Director Elizabeth Burke Bryant said in a statement.

Regarding poverty, racial and ethic disparities still exist. The Factbook states that 55% of children identified as Native American, 33% Hispanic and 27% Black live in poverty, whereas 13% of white children live in poverty. The median family income for white families is $92,986, the Factbook states, which is significantly higher than Black families ($56,681), Hispanic families ($44,704) and Native American families ($36,447).

The racial and ethic divides also still exist in education. Native American third-graders had lower proficiencies in reading (23%) and math (17%), and Black (33% reading proficiency; 24% math proficiency) and Hispanic children (33% reading proficiency; 21% math proficiency) were not much higher, the Factbook said. Black, Hispanic and Native American individuals also have lower outcomes in enrolling in college and having a Bachelor’s degree older than the age of 25 than their white counterparts, the Factbook said.

“Unacceptable gaps continue to exist between children of color and white children in nearly every Factbook indicator,” Burke Bryant said. “These gaps have persisted because of systemic racism and barriers to opportunity that must be addressed and dismantled to ensure that every child can succeed. The COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on stark economic, education, and other disparities and challenges to children’s success.”

Burke Bryant also said KIDS COUNT called on lawmakers to prioritize equitable solutions to ensure children and families can move forward with the proper supports they need to thrive.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.