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Research Shows Some Nebraska Kids on Unlevel Playing Field

Nebraska ranks 37th among states when it comes to key childhood milestones among Latino children. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Nebraska ranks 37th among states when it comes to key childhood milestones among Latino children.
(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

October 24, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. – There are deep differences in opportunity among children in Nebraska and other states, and a new report sheds light on policies that can help level the playing field.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2017 Race for Results report shows poverty, limited educational opportunities and family separation are preventing children of color and those from immigrant families from reaching their full potential.

Chrissy Tonkinson, a research coordinator with Voices for Children in Nebraska, says Nebraska has always done really well for kids.

"But unfortunately, Nebraska is mostly a really good state to be a white kid," she says. "And so we need to make sure that we're affording the advantages that white non-Hispanic kids get to every single Nebraska kid as our state grows more and more diverse."

For key childhood milestones among the states, Nebraska ranks 30th in opportunities for African-American children, 33rd for Asian and Pacific Islander children and 37th for Latino children.

Report co-author Laura Speer, the associate director of policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, says child well-being is key to the nation's future and very much influenced by their environments. She explains policies are needed that make their communities more supportive and healthy.

"Those are things like increasing access to early child care and education and ensuring that students are ready for higher education," she says. "We know this has a really high return on investment, so we need to make sure that's something that we invest in as a country."

The report also recommends expanding economic opportunity for parents and keeping families together in their community. Tonkinson says for immigrant families this means ensuring child well-being is prioritized in immigration-enforcement decisions.

"When a child is living in perpetual fear of losing their family, being moved from the community that they know, there's just so much trauma," she laments. "And as a state and a country, we really need to focus on minimizing that trauma and making a child's overall well-being a priority."

The report highlights Nebraska's policy that allows undocumented immigrant youth who were brought to the country as children to pay in-state tuition. Tonkinson says this helps them build towards economic success and possibly work in higher-paying jobs.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE