The news that more children are facing economic disadvantages in Utah and across the nation does not surprise local Head Start officials.
The 23rd annual 2012 KIDS COUNT Data book was released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Terry Haven, the Kids Count director for Voices of Utah Children, said it troubles her to see Utah is ranked 13th in the economic well-being of children. Utah has always been in the top 10, she said.
“Every single indicator worsened for us,” Haven said.
Haven said the impact of poverty on young children cannot be seen until they are in junior high school “and flunking out. They are not ready to learn when they entered kindergarten and have a long way to catch up.”
According to the report, in 2010 about 16 percent of Utah’s children were living in poverty, which was up from 2005 when only 11 percent lived in poverty; 24 percent of children had parents who did not have secure employment, which was up from 2005 when 19 percent of children had parents who did not have secure employment; 37 percent of the children in 2010 lived in households with high housing costs, compared to 32 percent of children in 2005; and 9 percent of teenagers were not in school or working in 2010, compared to 6 percent of teenagers in 2005.
The good news in Utah is children without health care went from 13 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2010. But officials worry that if funding is cut from programs like CHIP and Medicaid, more children in the future will be without health insurance.
And with more children living in poverty, there will be more children who need public preschool programs who will not be able to get enrolled because of budget cuts.
Head Start programs in Davis and Weber counties are unable to enroll everyone who signs up.
Judy Jackson, the director of the Head Start program and Early Head Start for Davis School District, said parents who can’t get their child into the government-funded preschool program can’t afford to send their child to a private program.
“They are worried about keeping their lights on, putting food on the table, providing heat,” Jackson said. “Preschool is not a priority.”
Children should be provided opportunities to learn through a quality preschool program, like Head Start, but not every child gets that opportunity.
Jackson said her program was funded for 533 children for the 2011-2012 school year. Every slot was filled, and there were still 569 on the waiting list.
Shawnell Howard, Head Start program manager with the Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership Inc., said that program was funded for 703 students, but also has a long waiting list. Some students drop out of the program because their parents move, which allows another student to come into the program.
Both Weber and Davis Head Start programs offer opportunities for children who are not in the daily program to participate, either through packets parents help their children with at home, or through a literacy program at the local libraries or at the schools.
Howard and Jackson said Head Start also provides opportunities and resources for parents to improve either their parenting skills and their education.
Patrick T. McCarthy, president and chief executive officer of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said during a webinar that children who do not attend “a high-quality preschool program” will continue to fall behind their class peers.
“Finding resources to help families help their children will be difficult at best,” McCarthy said. “States have taken a hit, even though revenues have began to grow slowly.”
Programs like Head Start are funded federally.
“We don’t know all the answers, but we need to find the political will to act so all children will have the chance to succeed,” McCarthy said.