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Child Poverty Could Drag Down VA's Future

Progress Virginia makes may in part depend on dealing with the one in six state children growing up in poverty. (Beatrice Murch/Wikipedia)
Progress Virginia makes may in part depend on dealing with the one in six state children growing up in poverty. (Beatrice Murch/Wikipedia)
June 23, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia risks its future if it fails to help the more than a quarter million children living in poverty, say child advocates. The recent Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation moved the state up three spots to eleventh in overall child welfare.

Margaret Nimmo Holland with Voices for Virginia's Children said that reflects good work in health and education. But, she said Kids Count also shows a stubborn and troubling number, nearly 300,000 children growing up below the poverty line. Holland adds that leaving those children behind threatens to undermine Virginia's future.

"It means they're not going to do as well in school, which means they're not going to be as prepared," she said. "We want the most prosperous, healthy Virginia that we can have, and we're not going to have that if we are leaving behind 300,000 children."

Sixteen percent, about one in six Virginia children, are growing up in poverty. Holland said that ratio hasn't moved much in spite of economic growth since the end of the recession. She said in some communities, the rate is twice the state average.

Holland said smart policies are proven to reduce the impact of poverty throughout a child's life. She points to programs such as home visitation and parental coaching for new and at-risk parents. But she said new brain science shows that choosing not to intervene when a family struggles can have negative consequences for decades.

"What we know from research is that growing up in poverty, in an environment of toxic stress, stress in the neighborhood, in your family, actually rewires a child's brain," she added. "And they're at much higher risk of not doing well in school, and also for negative physical health and mental health outcomes as they grow up."

Voices for Virginia's Children points to two other kinds of successful interventions: employment coaching that helps parents better support their families, and quality early education, including child care and preschool.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA