By Kristin Jones
We all want healthy kids.
We want them to make friends, love learning, get outside. We want them to grow strong, be kind, eat right.
We want them to live to adulthood.
The annual KIDS COUNT report, published by the Colorado Children’s Campaign with funding by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, takes the pulse of kids’ well-being in our state. (The Colorado Children’s Campaign is also a grantee of The Colorado Trust.)
With its tally of child poverty, infant mortality, educational achievement and other measures, it provides a meaningful view of the health of children in our state.
While the report itself doesn’t make specific policy recommendations, its research points the way toward solutions. None are quick fixes.
All the data cited here comes from the 2018 report, which includes detailed source information.
1) Pay mothers as much as fathers
Children living in households headed by single mothers were about 2.4 times more likely to live in poverty than kids in single-father families, according to the latest available census data. That disparity has grown since the 1993 KIDS COUNT.
Why is that? In part, it’s because women are paid much less for doing the same work as men. Colorado women who worked full-time in 2016 received just 84 cents for every dollar paid to men.
That’s hugely significant for Colorado families, because so many of our kids live in households in which women are the primary or sole breadwinners. About 241,000 Colorado kids lived with single mothers in 2016.
Nationally, the number of kids living in poverty could be cut nearly in half just by paying women at the same rate as men of similar ages and educational attainment, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
In Colorado, there were about 166,000 children living in poverty by the latest census count. That’s tens of thousands of kids who are dealing with the adversity of poverty at a time in their lives when toxic stress has the most lasting impact on their adult health.
How many thousands of kids across the state would be healthier if mom’s work was as valued as dad’s?
2) Fight racism
Statewide, the infant mortality rate is nearly half of what it was 25 years ago.
That means thousands of Colorado babies celebrated their first birthday who might have otherwise died.
Fewer birth defects, fewer babies born too small or too soon and a drop in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome have all played a role in making Colorado one of the states with the lowest infant mortality rates.
Black families, too, have seen improvements. But too many babies are still dying.
Out of 1,000 births to black mothers in Colorado, nearly 11 babies died in their first year of life. That’s higher than the overall infant mortality rate in Colorado back in 1991.
Income and education aren’t enough to protect black families from this tragedy. In Colorado in 2014, black households making $50,000 to $75,000 a year had infant mortality rates nearly twice as high as white families making less than $15,000 a year.
That’s in part because of the stress associated with experiencing racism and discrimination.
Black mothers have a measurably higher level of the stress hormone cortisol than white or Hispanic mothers, according to a recent study conducted in Colorado. High levels of cortisol in a mother can have a range of negative impacts on a child, including pre-term birth and low birth weight.
Rates of postpartum depression, which can affect children’s health, are also much higher among black mothers. Nearly one in five black mothers experienced symptoms of depression in their babies’ first year of life, compared to around one in 13 white mothers and one in seven Hispanic mothers.
To save the lives of even more of our state’s smallest children, it’s not enough to fight poverty. We need to fight implicit bias, and take on laws and policies that are hurting women of color and their children.
3) Limit kids’ access to guns
The leading cause of death for Colorado children ages 10 to 24 is suicide. In 2016, there were 66 Colorado teenagers who died by suicide.
Mental health treatment can help. So can limiting access to firearms.
Guns were used in about 41 percent of teen suicides in Colorado between 2012 and 2016. In suicide attempts, which are often impulsive decisions, the method of choice matters a lot. Suicide attempts with a firearm almost always end in death, whereas intentional drug overdoses usually don’t.
Studies have shown that laws aimed at preventing children and young people from accessing firearms reduce suicides, while the risk of suicide is lowest in families without guns in the home.