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Report: Well-being of black and Hispanic children continues to lag in Florida

Students line up in the courtyard at predominantly black Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg. A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that Florida ranks 28th in the nation on an index that measures the well-being of black children. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]

Students line up in the courtyard at predominantly black Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg. A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that Florida ranks 28th in the nation on an index that measures the well-being of black children. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Despite making progress in health care access and parental employment, Florida has not improved its poverty rate for children over the past five years, a newly released national report shows.

And that indicator, along with several others, bodes particularly poorly for children of ethnic minorities and immigrant families, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, the Annie E. Casey Foundation states in its 2017 "Race for Results" index.

With Florida accounting for more than 1.2 million immigrant children, the majority of whom are Hispanic, the Sunshine State carries importance nationally when it comes to ensuring all children equity in America, said Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation's associate director of policy reform and advocacy.

"It may be a state might do okay with Asian kids, but African-American kids or Latino kids might not be doing so well," Speer said. "We need to keep the well-being of kids in mind."

The foundation rated states on an equity index, which takes into account several milestones it deems key for children to find success in life. Among them are enrollment in early education, scoring proficiently in reading in fourth grade, graduating from high school on time and living with an adult who has at least finished high school.

It then broke the results down by state and by race.

Florida's Hispanic children outpaced the national average, and rated ninth overall for their subgroup. That overview masks the reality that, on a scale of 1,000, the subgroup earned 524 points, noted Norin Dollard, director of Florida Kids Count, a data book on the well-being of children published by the foundation.

More work remains, Dollard suggested.

The situation looked worse for Florida's African-American children. They had a composite score of 364, and rated 28th nationally.

In contrast, the state's Asian and white children scored significantly higher, 781 and 683 respectively, but still fell behind the national average.

The Casey Foundation, which focuses on improving outcomes for children, suggested some potentially politically charged actions to turn the situation around. It called for keeping families together in communities, a clear rebuke to those who seek to end the "Dreamers" program that impacts thousands of Florida children, as well as to those who want to deport immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children.

It proposed providing more early education services to immigrant children, and increasing economic opportunities, including welfare support, to immigrant parents.

But Florida's heavily conservative Legislature has not always been friendly to such ideas.

Speer said she hoped people would look beyond partisanship to humanity.

"If you believe that we need to think together about how we can have a better country in our future, investment in children seems to be one thing that people can agree upon," she said.

"The data is clear which kids have the biggest hurdles to get over," Speer added. "That's what is reflected in this report. Our intention is to continue to ring this bell."

Find the full report at aecf.org.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

Report: Well-being of black and Hispanic children continues to lag in Florida 10/24/17 [Last modified: Monday, October 23, 2017 9:44pm]
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