January 7, 2013

Children with High Needs

Recently, the Child and Family Policy Center issued a report documenting the challenges faced by many of Iowa’s children and their families.  The report, "A Baseline on Iowa's Young Children: Capturing the Demand for Early-Childhood Services" notes that Iowa has one of the nation’s highest rates of children with one or both parents working, and an increasing number of single parent families.  These are just 2 of the many factors that contribute to stress within the family and affecting young children.

Although a majority of Iowa children begin school in good health and with appropriate cognitive, language, and social/emotional development – termed “school readiness” – to be prepared to engage in learning.  There is, however, a significant share of Iowa children who are dramatically behind their peers and require special assistance to “catch up.”

Nationally, 56% of children begin school behind peers in at least one measure (cognitive, social/emotional, or physical), and 21% are behind in 2 or more areas – requiring significant school time and investment in remediation.  These facts led researchers to question whether it is possible to identify these children early and provide support and assistance that will reduce this trend.  A tremendous amount of data points to identifying and responding to high-need children through the family.

Here are what the report terms “Top-line Findings” in defining children with high needs:

•     There is no one measure that captures “need” among children; rather a cluster of characteristics that contribute to good or bad outcomes.  On average, the prevalence of poor early-childhood outcomes is highest among children of less-educated, unmarried or adolescent parents, parents who are depressed, parents with limited incomes who have difficulty meeting basic needs, and among children with special needs themselves.
•     A significant share of Iowa families face economic stress; many are headed by young and less-educated parents.  More than 40 percent of Iowas young children live in households below 200 percent of poverty, a realistic measure of what it takes to support a family.  Nearly one in five (19 percent of the total) live in households below 100 percent of poverty ($22,314 for a family of four in 2010).  In 2010, 17 percent of Iowa first-time births, and 8 percent of total births, were to adolescent mothers, almost all of whom were unmarried with less than a high school diploma.
•    Another significant share of Iowa children have special health needs.  In fact, 21 percent of Iowa children four months to five years of age are at moderate or high risk of developmental, behavioral or social delays. Based on national research, we know over 50 percent of young children begin kindergarten behind in at least one area of special need
and over 20 percent have multiple needs that require even greater levels of support.

As we know, the United Way of Central Iowa’s Women’s Leadership Connection has supported early childhood education as a key priority for the past 10 years, assisting with accreditation of early learning centers and preschools, facility improvements, book drives, teacher training, and volunteer readers.  Several Chrysalis Board members have participated in this tremendous project.

The work of Chrysalis takes place in prevention efforts through Chrysalis After-School, which we created and have funded since 1998.  Our goal is to assure that girls gain the knowledge and skills to become resilient and successful women – overcoming and/or avoiding these “top-line findings" that cause the next generation (their families) to face these tremendous challenges.  Since we began, nearly 6,000 adolescent girls have been part of this powerful program.  It’s the best investment in the future we can possibly make.