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HomeNewsArchivesLatest Data on V.I. Children Brings More Bad News

Latest Data on V.I. Children Brings More Bad News

Sept. 10, 2008 — For the eighth consecutive year, statistics on the status of children in the Virgin Islands paint a picture of poverty and underachievement, suggesting a need for community response, which appears to be slowly mounting.
The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) released its annual Kids Count Data Book, a measure of benchmarks of childhood and family well-being, and at the same time launched a new publicity campaign to encourage parents and caregivers to cultivate a learning environment for small children.
Kids Count 2007 measures such things as poverty, teen pregnancy, juvenile crime, school dropout rates and other factors that help gauge the social and economic well being of the community. It's sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation with assistance from the University of the Virgin Islands. Based on the most recent statistics available from the 2005 V.I. Community Survey, the measurements reveal that:
— while median family income increased in 2005, more than one in every three children in the territory lives in poverty, or almost 36 percent, compared to 19 percent nationally, and the figure is up from previous years;
— 49 percent of all V.I. families with children are now single-mother families, compared to 18 percent nationally;
— since 1997, the number of children living in single-mother families continues to rise — 40 percent — despite a 14-percent decline in child population during these years;
— births among girls ages 15 to 19 continued to fall from 62.4 per 1,000 in 2001 to 47 per 1,000 in 2005, attributable in part to an increase in the number of teenage girls in the territory;
— juvenile violent crime, on the other hand, has increased by 56 percent since 2001 among youth ages 10-17;
— the percent of teens who are high school dropouts fell to15.7 percent in 2005, compared to 22 percent in 1997, however, the dropout rate itself rose to 5.6 percent in 2005-06, from 2.6 percent in 1996-97; and
— the V.I. "detached youth" rate, which refers to children ages 16-19 who are not in school and not employed, is almost 300 percent greater than in the rest of the nation, at 23.7 percent compared to eight percent nationally.
The last statistic is particularly alarming said Kids Count Project Director Judith Richardson.
"That's almost a quarter of our youth who are idle," Richardson said as she addressed a gathering at the Palms Court Harbor View Hotel. "If that's not a wakeup call to this community, I don't know what is. The implications for our community, if this trend continues, are nothing short of a nightmare."
Other categories examined from 2001 to 2005 found that:
— the child death rate (ages 1-14) got better;
— low-birth-weight babies and child abuse or neglect was variable; and
— infant mortality and teen deaths by accident, homicide or suicide worsened.
Early-Childhood Education
Assessments of public school kindergarten children across the territory revealed that while the vast majority performed at or above age level in areas such as gross motor skills and visual memory, receptive language skills were dramatically low, according to Richardson.
"Eighty percent of our children enter into kindergarten with below-average ability to understand what is being communicated to them," she said.
According to the Kids Count report, that fact "… should be a call to action in the V.I. community."
Literacy Campaigns Beginning
CFVI is helping to lead the charge, said Dee Baecher-Brown, the foundation's president. She unveiled the foundation's Born Learning project, part of a national public-education campaign developed by the Ad Council and United Way and funded by the CFVI. Its goal is to educate parents and caregivers about ways to engage very young children in learning during their most critical years.
Birth to age five is regarded as the most important years for brain development, and the campaign's goal is to teach parents the importance of hardwiring the brain for future learning through responding to babies' needs, talking, singing and reading to children, and establishing a predictable, loving environment, Baecher-Brown said.
Radio ads will soon hit the airwaves modeling ways to talk to young children, and corresponding literature is being distributed to outlets across the territory, in tandem with an effort by Royal Caribbean's Vivek Daswani, a CFVI board member. Daswani will work to ensure business leaders embrace the effort and pass literature on to employees.
Caribbean Literacy Exchange
Inspired in part by the annual Kids Count report, two early-childhood experts joined Wednesday's gathering having recently banded together to form Caribbean Literacy Exchange. It will focus initially on improving literacy in pre-kindergarten through third grade, and then expand to grade 12.
"All of the research really points to prevention," said Lisa Morris, co-founder along with Beth Marshall. "Although it might look like you need to deal with the dropout rate, it's really early on, birth to five. By third grade … if reading is not in place … it's a scary proposition and difficult to intervene and remediate. It's very much an uphill battle."
To view Kids Count 2007, click here or call the Community Foundation at 777-0990 for a copy.
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