Friday, August 26, 2011

Making "Kids Count" About More Than Kids

Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released their annual Kids Count Databook. Kids Count is an important tool for many stakeholders that deal with children and youth, from advocates like the staff and members of DCAYA to policy actors like the City Council right down to the families and individuals the data book reports on.

The data book is a national scan of a series of indicators that are accepted means of tracking how children are fairing. Each year the databook has a theme, and this year's was how family economic well-being affects child welfare. The data is presented in such a way that viewers of the databook can see how different states and territories are doing from year to year. An example is shown below:

Kids Count provides valuable information on a range of issues. However, something sorely missing from the databook is a wealth of indicators telling us how YOUTH and YOUNG ADULTS are doing and how their well being affects family well being. Kids Count is CHOCK FULL of indicators about early childhood and school aged children, but when it comes to data about teenagers and especially individuals in their early twenties..fuhgeddaboutit.

It may seem counter intuitive to include young adults in a report titled Kids Count, but as A growing body of research (from some reallllllly smart people) points out, the transition from childhood (for most intents and purposes up to age 18) to adulthood is not on the same schedule it used to be. Children and young adults are living with their parents for longer, getting married later (or not at all) and its taking most of them a while to find well paid, sustainable jobs and careers. These trends are true across socio-economic groups and demographics. As one of the reallllly smart people we mentioned earlier, Frank Furstenberg Jr. has pointed out, America's welfare, education, workforce development and safety net system DOES NOT invest heavily in things like education, health care, and job benefits for young adults. As a result, we rely on the investments that individual families make in their own children during the young adult years. But as adulthood is delayed, so is financial independence. Older teenagers and those in their early 20's (and for some even mid and late twenties) are increasingly reliant on their parents or guardians to provide housing, food and financial backing... obviously this will have an effect on the overall economic security of families in the U.S.

Karen Pittman, from the Forum for Youth Investment's Ready By 21 Initiative noticed the same gap in the Kids Count Data and in response wrote ,"We need to do a better job of highlighting the statistics and stories of older youth, and ensuring that our policy recommendations include strategies that address their needs for job training, educational stipends, extended health and social benefits, employer incentives and paid service opportunities."

DCAYA couldn't agree more Karen!

As this body of research continues to grow, we can only hope that the complicated transition from adolescence to adulthood and the public investment that is needed at this stage of development is transferred into the psyches of policy makers and the general public, to the point where we see indicators of youth and young adult well-being on data books like Kids Count. Until then groups like DCAYA and the Forum for Youth Investment will no doubt continue to spread the word about issues specific to youth and young adult population.

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