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Pa. ranks nearly last in nation for well-being of its Latino, black children, report says

The study found that Pennsylvania’s children of color, as well as those in immigrant families, face barriers in education, health, and economic development.

Pennsylvania ranked nearly last in the nation in the well-being of its young Latino population, ranking 48th out of the 50 states, a new report that looked at a comprehensive set of performance measures concluded. When it came to African American children, the state ranked 32nd.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's study, "Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children," found that Pennsylvania's children of color, as well as those in immigrant families, face barriers when it comes to education, health, and economic development.

At the same time, Pennsylvania ranked 20th for the well-being of white children and 14th for Asian American children.

"The data in this report can help Pennsylvania create policies and programs that benefit all children and help identify areas where targeted strategies and investments are needed," said Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, an independent child advocacy organization. "While there has been some improvement, we rank very low in comparisons to other states in some areas."

By comparison, New Jersey ranked first for the well-being of Asian, Pacific Islander, and white children; eighth for African American children; and 10th for Latino children. Although the report also examined outcomes for American Indian children nationally, there were not enough data for the report to include a ranking for Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

The data offer an important snapshot of disparity in opportunity and the barriers that exist for different groups of children, the report said.

For instance, in Pennsylvania, the report found:

  1. Only 18 percent of Latino and 17 percent of African American fourth graders scored at or above proficiency in reading.

  2. While 92 percent of all Pennsylvania babies are born at a healthy birth weight, only 87 percent of African American babies are. Low birth weight increases the risk of developmental delays.

  3. While 90 percent of all Pennsylvania children live in a household where at least one adult member has a high school diploma, only 73 percent of Latino children live in such a household. That means 1 in 4 Latino children live in a home where no adults have a high school diploma.

"Low literacy levels in parents will have an impact on children from birth through high school," Benso said. "That includes having parents who don't feel adequate with their literacy levels, or who are struggling with the language to help their children with schoolwork, or even to read to them when they're babies."

Benso said children who struggle with reading in fourth grade continue to face the longest odds for success: "Far too often, children who fall behind in elementary school because of language barriers or inadequate school funding don't catch up."

The Tuesday report is the second "Race for Results" the Annie E. Casey Foundation has released. In 2014, the foundation issued its first, and in it established an evidence-based set of 12 key indicators measuring the opportunity for children to reach their full potential, including: preschool availability for 3- to 5-year-olds; proficiency in math for eighth graders; living in a household with at least one adult with a high school diploma; and living in high-poverty or low-poverty areas.

One finding from the report is that many of the children who are American citizens but live in immigrant families face some of the same stress as children who are immigrants.

"The threat of deportation is causing high levels of anxiety in children that is described as 'toxic stress,' " the report said, "impeding the ability to learn and develop social skills while posing long-term health consequences."

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children participated in the study to make specific recommendations including enacting immigration reform laws like permitting undocumented parents of U.S.-born children to remain here; improving funding of public schools in poor neighborhoods; and providing nurses who conduct home visits to families whose children are at risk of developmental delays.

"It's important to have the data out there," Benso said. "It focuses policymakers on the challenges that children are facing."