Opinion

Challenges with young children

A new report on the “State of Durham County’s Young Children” provides a wealth of data — and challenging recommendations — for Durham County leaders.

The report by the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy was presented to elected official and others on Friday. “I hope this report will galvanize the Durham community and drive community change,” said Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, who had been a major force in initiating the study. “We can build on the strong programs that we already have to ensure that more families access the services they need.”

One stark — but hardly unexpected — conclusion of the report is that “significant differences are apparent among different segments of the overall population when it comes to early childhood experiences, health and academic achievement.” In many cases, those differences are more pronounced here than across North Carolina as a whole.

“These differences are particularly striking among children from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds and, to a large extent, they define the challenges facing policy makers in Durham as they work to enrich the lives and opportunities for current and future generations,” the report said.

Among the sobering data in the report:

  • Of Durham County’s more than 36,000 children under 8, more than one in four live in a home where the head of household’s income is at or below the poverty level. That overall number masks a stunning difference among ethnic groups. Only 8 percent of white children live in those households. For black and Hispanic children, more than one in three live in households at the poverty level or below.
  • About 5 percent of Durham’s young children were subject to a “maltreatment report” in 2015, mostly for reports of neglect. Well over half involved children of color; only 220 were white.
  • Fewer than half -- 47 percent -- of Durham third-graders in traditional public and charter schools scored at or above grade level in third-grade reading. That is nearly 12 percentage points below the statewide average, itself a rather dismaying figure given the importance of reading at grade level by the third grade for academic success.
  • While early childhood education is a critical foundation for success in school, there is a lack of capacity for quality pre-kindergarten education, and the average cost is as much as a quarter of the county’s median household income.

That last point will receive considerably more attention later this week when a task force that has been preparing recommendations for expanding pre-kindergarten education makes its report to the City Council, Board of Education and County Commissioners. On this front and others, the state of our young children clearly demands greater attention.

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