R.I. KIDS COUNT: Racial and ethnic disparities in child outcomes remain

PROVIDENCE – While racial and ethnic diversity has increased, persistent, unacceptable racial and ethnic disparities in child outcomes remain, according to the Rhode Island KIDS COUNT’s 2022-23 Factbook, released Monday. 

This year’s book, which analyzes improvements and declines in the well-being of the Ocean State’s 209,785 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. 

The report says children in Rhode Island are more likely to be identified as people of color than adults. Almost one-third, 31%, of Hispanic children in Rhode Island live in concentrated poverty, higher than in any other state. In 2020, more than half, 59%, of Rhode Island’s children of color lived in one of the four core cities (those cities with the highest percentages of children living in poverty), and more than three-quarters of children in Central Falls, 90%, and Providence, 85%, were children of color. Cambodians make up the largest Southeast Asian population in Rhode Island and have higher poverty rates, lower median household incomes and lower postsecondary attainment rates than other Asian groups, data showed. 

The report found the workforce crisis is in large part due to inadequate reimbursements/wages, including for child care and early Intervention, affecting access to many vital services for children. The book stressed that in order to address the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on children and families, cost-effective investments in child care, early learning, multilingual Learners, out-of-school time programs, health care and behavioral health need to made. 

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“Healthy, well-educated children and strong families are the foundation of Rhode Island’s economic prosperity,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “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.  

“We are seeing a major increase in children and youth with mental health conditions whose families are having trouble accessing services due to a workforce crisis in community based programs,” she continued. “It is cost effective to invest in a seamless system of high quality children’s behavioral health care rather than pay the much higher cost of crisis intervention.” 

The book notes that child care educators, almost all of whom are women (and often are women of color), earn low wages and many are not able to meet their basic needs. In January 2022, there were 94 fewer child care slots for infants and toddlers and 63 fewer slots for preschoolers in licensed centers, and there were 398 fewer slots in licensed family child care homes than in January 2020. In December 2021, there were 6,110 child care subsidies in Rhode Island, down 42% from December 2019 (pre-pandemic) and down 57% from the 2003 peak. As of June 30, 2021, there were 2,102 infants and toddlers receiving early-intervention services, 6% of the population under age 3. The number of children receiving early-intervention services last year, 4,110, was down 11% from 4,601 in 2019.  

The report said diversifying the workforce is vital, finding many schools, child care providers, health care providers, social service agencies, and other community organizations are working to adapt their practices to be more culturally competent and better serve the increasingly diverse child population. Increasing access to doulas, training providers to address racism with their patients, and increasing the diversity of the health care workforce are important strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in maternal and infant mortality.

Educators of color also benefit all students, especially students of color, the report said.

The book also found that the COVID-19 pandemic continued to take a serious toll on child and family well-being in very concrete, tangible ways. 

Data showed when one in five renters reported they were behind in rent, many households are still struggling. Black renters and families with children continue to face the greatest housing insecurity. The expanded Child Tax Credit kept many families and children out of poverty, but it has ended. 

School closures and the combination of distance learning and hybrid models have resulted in significant learning loss, especially among low-income students, multilingual learners, students receiving special education services and students of color. College enrollment also declined during the pandemic. There has also been a significant increase in anxiety and depression among youth since 2020. 

“We call on lawmakers to prioritize equitable solutions to ensure that children and families can move forward with the health, educational, and economic supports they need to thrive,” Bryant said.