For 28 years, she's been making Rotary kids count - The Boston Globe

For 28 years, she’s been making Rotary kids count – The Boston Globe

Why are you quitting now?

I am stepping down by the end of this year because I have so much faith in our amazing staff and Board of Directors to drive the work of Kids Count forward with continued success and impact. It feels like a good time. The organization has been very successful in contributing to major political victories for children and families in Rhode Island, and its impact will continue in full.

What are some of these political victories?

I take great pride in creating Rhode Island’s pre-K programs, which are ranked #1 in quality. We were one of the last states in the nation to establish a pre-K program, but we’re now ranked first in the nation for quality, and each year we’ve seen the program serve more young children with an education. high quality for early childhood. It serves children in a co-ed delivery setting, so pre-K can be offered in child care centers, Head Start programs, and in public schools, as long as they can meet very high quality standards.

What remains to be accomplished when it comes to pre-kindergarten programs in Rhode Island?

The goal is universal access to pre-K for all 4-year-olds, and as many other states have done, to expand to 3-year-olds. Thus, universal access for 3- and 4-year-olds in Rhode Island is on its way. This has been stated as a goal of legislative leaders and there is a lot of support in the General Assembly because they know how important it is for children to be able to attend pre-K, which helps them to be ready for the rest of their education. .

What was another political victory?

The increase in the percentage of Rhode Island children with health insurance coverage. Now we are ranked fourth in the nation with only 2.5% of children in Rhode Island not covered. But we scored a big victory last year when the General Assembly reinstated health insurance policy through the RIte Care program, regardless of immigration status. This is so important because children need to be healthy to take full advantage of educational opportunities, to have healthy growth and development, to benefit from preventive health care and regular visits to the doctor. . And I think that means Rhode Island will soon lead the nation in access to health insurance coverage for children.

Although these are a few victories, what has been your biggest frustration?

We haven’t seen the improvement that Rhode Island needs to see in student success and academic achievement. We lag behind the country in many of our education indicators. The recent National Kids Count data book ranks Rhode Island 31st in four grades. Every generation of students matters, and we need to see much faster progress in student achievement so that Rhode Island has the workforce it needs in the future and children reach their full potential. potential. One strategy to achieve this is for Rhode Island to adopt a constitutional right to education – a right to an equal, adequate, and meaningful education – as have 24 other states in their state constitutions, including Massachusetts and Vermont.

When did the Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook start?

The Factbook was launched in 1995, and from the beginning we wanted it to be the clearing house for the best available data on children and families in Rhode Island. Over the past 28 years, it has grown from 22 to 70 indicators or issues related to children’s health, education, economic well-being, safety and early childhood development. From the beginning, we have focused on the whole child and the family, with an emphasis on children living in poverty and the unacceptable and persistent disparities we see in all these areas based on the race and ethnicity.

We were able to have a solid foundation of the best data and policy information available. You are able to present the facts to lawmakers to show trends of what works and what doesn’t, and this has been the foundation of our successful advocacy work. It’s used by people across the state to fuel their child rights advocacy work, and that’s what we hoped for when we started.

Can you give us an idea of ​​the human faces behind all these numbers?

One of our goals is to truly put a human face on these issues so that when we advocate, it’s not just about statistics, but about real children and families. So part of the effort to make that happen is to make sure that young people and families with lived experience are involved in all policy discussions from the start, because those policies affect their lives and their future. . So we have been fortunate to work with amazing young people involved in organizations such as Young Voices, Youth in Action, Youth Pride, the Providence Student Union, ARISE and many more. I remember walking with those who opposed an increase in the number of miles students would have to walk to school in Providence. This policy has been changed, which really shows the impact of advocating for young people themselves.

What kind of impact has the pandemic had on children in Rhode Island and how long will we feel those effects?

The COVID pandemic has had and continues to have a very significant impact on children, youth and their families in Rhode Island. The COVID pandemic has hit families of color the hardest, especially in some of our urban communities where they have borne the brunt of the disease itself, with a much higher percentage of people of color contracting COVID. Plus, there was the economic impact it had on families who sometimes worked two jobs to support families, often in the service economy where they had to be on the front line. This economic impact continues to be felt. And across the state, there’s been a very, very significant impact on the mental health of youth and children. There was a significant problem with children needing mental health services before the pandemic, and during the pandemic it got even worse. Behavioral health phone calls doubled from 4,900 to nearly 9,000 calls. Children were isolated from peers, teachers, coaches and other outside activities that helped them thrive.

The General Assembly adopted three gun bills this year, but are there any other bills you would like to see become law? And how does this problem affect children?

I have something really surprising about this: We report in our Factbook that in Rhode Island, between 2016 and 2020, there were 189 emergency room visits due to gun-related injuries involving children and young people. And from 2016 to 2020, there have been a total of five childhood gun deaths, with the majority of those deaths being over the age of 15. It was therefore very important to pass the gun bills that the legislature passed in the last two sessions, and there is still work to be done to reduce gun violence. I would like to see the ban on assault weapons passed in the next session.

What will you do next?

I will continue to dedicate my time and energy to Rhode Island Kids Count until the end of the year. And I can’t wait to consider the next steps after that. I will always be an advocate for children. It has been a privilege to do this work every day from the beginning.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.

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