Last week’s announcement by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands of the new 2011 Kids Count report highlights good news in various childhood categories, within a broader analysis of trends regarding family economic security in the Virgin Islands.
Within the reports’ finding are assessments of 12 key indicators tracked over the past 12 years for the Virgin Islands – some of which reveal significant improvements in health and safety outcomes for children.
Recognizing that community-based efforts, including early education and care initiatives, would not have an immediate impact, but would be felt in future years, the administration launched numerous programs, along with partners in the public, private, non-profit and faith-based sectors, to combat socio-economic ills and plant the seeds of renewal and reform.
The 2011 report, which takes a snapshot of data for the year 2009 and compares it to previous years’ numbers, notes that in the Virgin Islands, the teen death rate decreased, from 122.9 in 2007 (teens ages 15-19) to 88.2 in 2009. Outcomes for teenagers have generally improved, with decreases in both the high school drop-out rate, from 13.1% in 2007 to 9.1% in 2009 and the teen birth rate (births for 1,000 females ages 15-19), from 57.4% in 2007 to 51.3% in 2009.
Grade 5 reading proficiency levels also improved in 2009, an indication of the gains achieved during the previous two years for third graders, from 2007.
According to the Kids Count data for the 5th grade, “advanced” reading proficiency rates increased from 5.7% in 2006-2007 to 11.1% in 2009-2010. For “proficient” levels, rates increased from 27.7% in 2006-2007 to 33.5% in 2009-2010; for “basic” levels, rates increased from 41.3% to 48.7%; and for “below basic,” rates markedly decreased from 25.3% to 6.6%, a tremendous improvement.
The percent of low birth weight babies also declined since 2007, from 11.6% to 8.1%. This means that fewer babies were born at risk for developmental delays and other problems during this period.
The 2011 report also notes a decline in children living in poverty in the Virgin Islands from 2007 to 2009, a decrease from 34.1% to 29.9%.
According to Dee Baecher-Brown, president of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, the 2009 data is encouraging. “We’re encouraged by the improvements in various categories, suggesting that our work as a community is on the right track. What we found is that numerous categories suggest trends that show improvements over the past few years, and while there are real areas of concern, the progress is clear.”
Brown indicated that while measuring and assessing improvements, “we also want to be focused on what is happening currently to ensure future success” and referred to the involvement of the business community in supporting the success of Virgin Islands children as “key,” and noted the two business summits that were held in June 2010 to discuss early childhood education with experts and advocates.
Brown also referred to the creation of the Early Childhood Advisory Committee (ECAC), and the Leadership in Action Program (LAP), both initiatives of the Children and Families Council as “critical supports,” and commended the recent revision of childcare rules and regulations for the first time since 1980 as “raising the expectations in our childcare providers, and raising the bar on providing excellence of service.”
The Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS), set to launch in the spring of 2012, “will provide quality ratings for Virgin Islands day care centers,” and the recently published early learning guidelines by the Department of Human Services provide parents and early care providers with “a better understanding of their children’s development. We are working together towards having all Virgin Islands children succeed,” Brown said.
Kids Count Co-Director Judith Richardson noted, “Investments made now are important to secure our children’s health, safety and success for the future. When we help our children succeed, we are paving the way for our next generation of workers and leaders.”
For more information and to access the 2011 Kids Count report, visit www.cfvi.net .