- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

CORTEZ, Colo. (AP) - More Montezuma County children are affected by poverty on average, and more are born into high-risk situations than the state as a whole, according to a new report from the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Every year, the group releases the “Kids Count in Colorado” report, which tracks child wellbeing at the state and county levels. This year’s edition is mostly based on data from 2015.

The child poverty rate in Montezuma County, at 28.7 percent, is nearly double the state’s average, according to the report. The county’s teen birth rate in 2015 was 43 per 1,000 females age 15-19. That was more than double the state rate of 19.

Some education factors in the county are more promising, though. Nearly all Montezuma County kindergartners were in a full-day program in fall 2016. Only 77 percent were in a full-day program statewide.

And the county’s graduation rate was 78.1 percent in 2016, slightly below the state’s rate of 78.9 percent.

Katrina Lindus, with the Montelores Early Childhood Council, responding to the study results, said being a parent is challenging in southwest Colorado. She emphasized that struggling parents shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help.

Parenting is expensive, but spending time with your kids doesn’t cost any money, she said. It’s very important that parents read and play with their kids.

“That’s the No. 1 thing you can do, whether you have $1 or $1 million,” Lindus said.

Montelores Early Childhood Council coordinator Vangi McCoy agreed.

“Get involved in whatever capacity you are able to with your child’s education from the earliest age so they are used to having you there,” she said in an email.

McCoy said children who grow up in poverty are likely to have different experiences and environments.

“Children exposed to poverty at a young age often have trouble academically later in life, and have a much greater chance of dropping out of high school,” she said.

In a webinar for journalists in April, Colorado Children’s Campaign research analyst Sarah Hughes said the Kids Count report has focused on gaps between races in past years.

“This year we wanted to explore that, but we wanted to explore it in the lens of the Coloradans behind those numbers,” Hughes said.

To do that, they reached out to people experiencing those gaps across the state, and conducted focus group research in Denver, Alamosa, Fort Morgan and La Plata County.

More than 160 people participated in the outreach for the report, Hughes said.

GAPS BETWEEN ETHNIC GROUPS

Statewide, the report reveals racial disparities among white students and students of color.

La Plata County was chosen as an outreach site for the report in part because it is home to the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, Hughes said.

That reservation is home to one of two Native American tribes located in Colorado, along with Montezuma County’s Ute Mountain Ute tribe.

The report found that Native American children are four times more likely to live in poverty than white children.

About 35 percent of the state’s Native American kids live in poverty, while just 9 percent of white kids are affected. Poverty has more impact on children of color than white children, the report said.

McCoy said she sees more gaps in socioeconomic status and gender of kids, but racial differences still exist.

“Racial gaps do begin when entering the elementary schools and it effects not only learning but also social emotional development and self-esteem,” she said.

Over the past few years, health insurance coverage has improved for children of all ethnicities. In 2015, 7 percent of Montezuma County’s children were not covered. Across Colorado, 4.4 percent of kids weren’t covered that year, the report states.

Still, Native American children are far less likely than white children to be covered in Colorado. In 2015, 13.3 percent of Colorado’s Native American children did not have health coverage, while just 3.4 percent of white children were covered.

“Structural and institutional barriers have created the educational disparities we see between students of color and white students, and those are carried into adulthood,” Hughes said.

The report typically does not include suggestions for policy proposals or legislative solutions based on the data, Hughes said. However, the group hopes state and local officials will use the data in the report to guide any policy decisions regarding child wellbeing.

Hughes said it’s important for policies to be created by people who have lived through issues detailed in the report.

“It’s important for those decisions to be led and informed by the people who are experiencing them,” she said.

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Information from: Cortez Journal, https://www.cortezjournal.com/


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