Are kids the key to solving poverty? – VPM News

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ANGIE MILES: More than one in six American children under the age of five is living in poverty. Those stressors during the early years can set the stage for a lifetime of financial struggle. Access to high quality early education may be a key to breaking that cycle. Rachael Deane, CEO for Voices for Virginia’s Children is joining us. And thank you for being here.

RACHAEL DEANE: Thank you for having me.

So I want to talk with you today about poverty, about children living in poverty, the long-range impact of that on all of us. But first, please tell us a little bit more about Voices for Virginia’s Children.

Voices for Virginia’s Children is the state’s only multi-issue youth policy and advocacy organization. And we champion public policies and legislation that create positive and equitable outcomes for all young people and families across the state. We do that through research and data analysis. We do community engagement with folks who are outliving the policies that we hope to influence. And of course we connect with lawmakers as well.

Okay. And Voices has been known for years also as the home of the KIDS COUNT reports for Virginia. Could you describe for us what that report is and what some of the big headlines are from the most recent edition?

Well, when we talk about child poverty and child policy, it’s so important to know the data. What are we really talking about in terms of numbers? And the KIDS COUNT Data Center allows us to track dozens of indicators of child well-being across time so that we know how kids are doing in Virginia. Unfortunately, though, recent data suggests that child poverty is on the rise, particularly since the pandemic.

And during the pandemic, of course there were some stopgaps, right? Some supports in place for families? And those have been disappearing now.

Yeah, I think the pandemic really taught us that child poverty is a policy choice. During the pandemic, the federal government implemented many stopgap measures, an expanded federal child tax credit to provide economic relief for families, expanded food stamp benefits or nutrition benefits for all families. And we saw those policies have a dramatic impact on child poverty, not only here in Virginia, but across the country. We saw child poverty cut in half as a result of some of those policies. They have now expired, and child poverty is on the rise once again.

So that conversation, we imagine, is going to resume in earnest if it hasn’t already. Let’s get down to the ground level in Virginia. Emporia, Buena Vista, Charlotte County, Petersburg, King and Queen, Bristol, what does that mean to you? What distinction do these cities and counties have that is concerning for Voices and maybe should be concerning for everyone?

Those localities in Virginia have some of our highest rates of child poverty. And not only are the rates high, child poverty is concentrated in those regions, and that means that children have less opportunity, less access to things like quality healthcare, high quality early care and education. And it means their parents have less access to those resources as well.

Okay. A study outside of Virginia, I actually just recently learned about this long range study in the United Kingdom that has looked at the situation with children over generations and the correlation between poverty and adverse adult outcomes, finding that outcomes are terrible, frankly, for children who grew up in poverty even when they had high quality parenting as a mitigating factor. What does that say to you? What does it say about what all of us need to be concerned about?

That’s right. Decades of research show that children who live in poverty, particularly during the first five years of life, have adverse consequences throughout a lifetime. And that includes adverse consequences in health and mental health outcomes, lower achievement educationally, lower achievement in the workforce, more housing instability. What that tells me is that we need to be focusing on resourcing those early years of a child’s life and on providing families with the resources that can combat poverty. That creates better outcomes over a lifetime, but it really creates better outcomes for us all.

Early death is another of those adverse outcomes from childhood poverty in the UK study. Now, we’ve talked about early childhood education as a possible fix for this, or at least a remedy that can improve the situation for children who grow up in poverty. What is the situation with that today? Access to early childhood education, especially for those living in poverty.

High quality early care and education is incredibly important for all children. We see positive benefits for all children, but particularly for children in poverty, and access to early care and education during those first five years of life has the ability to remedy some of the adverse effects of poverty. In Virginia, we have a ways to go. We are, like many states, struggling in the wake of the pandemic and with the expiration of federal childcare subsidies and grants to help stabilize our childcare sector. So, at Voices, we are advocating for increased investment into the early care and education sector and increased compensation for our very highly qualified early education workforce.

As the federal subsidies have diminished or disappeared, Governor Youngkin had proposed for Virginia that we infuse millions of dollars in early childhood education. I’m sure you’ve been following this more closely than anyone. What is the status of that proposal right now?

We are so fortunate in Virginia to have bipartisan support for new investments in early care and education. Right now, that proposal is part of the overall state budget process. So as the general assembly starts to close out its session, the final item of business is to agree on a statewide budget. It is usually a long negotiation process, and we are waiting to see where that investment lands in the final budget.

And early childhood education, of course, was dealing with crisis before the pandemic, and it was just exacerbated with low pay for people who oftentimes have a high amount, a high degree of education, but can’t get compensated well, for doing those really essential jobs. Just one of the issues there. What do you think, here’s a double question. What do you think is an appropriate call to action for both lay people in Virginia and for leaders in our state?

I think a call to action is to place children and youth at the center of all of our social and policy discussions. So children are the center of a family, and families are the centers of our communities. Communities are the centers of our local governments and our state. When we place children at the center of our policy conversations, when we prioritize their needs, the benefits radiate outward to the family, to the caregivers, to the community, and to the state at large. So my call to action would be, let’s remember to put children first when we talk about policies, and we all will reap the benefits.

People would like to see poverty lessened across the commonwealth and the country and the world, frankly. So if that’s the case, do you think that we can reasonably address poverty without looking at the situation that our children are in?

No. I don’t think we can solve poverty without looking at the situations that our children are raised in. Child poverty is, as you said, influencing a child’s entire lifespan. And to solve child poverty, we need to, or excuse me, to solve global poverty or national poverty, we need to put the child first.

If people want to find out more about your organization specifically, how can they do that?

Our website is There you will find all of our policy priorities, ways to get involved, and ways to educate yourself and your community about the needs of children and youth.

Rachael Deane, CEO of Voices for Virginia’s Children, thank you so much for joining us today.

Thanks for having me.

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