Study: 55 parishes score high for risk factors for early childhood development

Study: 55 parishes score high for risk factors for early childhood development

POSTED: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 1:15pm

UPDATED: Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 1:19pm

A new report released today by the LSU/Tulane Early Childhood Policy and Data Center reveals that 55 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes score high on at least one of 11 risk factors related to poor early childhood outcomes, revealing significant vulnerabilities for the development of young children. Sixty-two of 64 parishes score moderately-high on at least one risk factor.

Recognizing the profound importance of the early childhood period to a child in reaching his or her full potential, the widespread existence of negative factors can influence the future of a community.

“These findings reveal not only that early childhood risk is widespread, but also that the nature of that risk differs across parishes,” said Kirby Goidel, director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, or PPRL. “For many parishes, the primary risk factors are economic in nature, while in other parishes the risks reside in poor health or educational outcomes.”

Among the key findings:

· Thirty-seven Louisiana parishes scored high on at least one of five economic risk factors including percent unemployed, births to single mothers, percent of mothers with less than a high school education, and median household income as percent of the federal poverty level.

· Thirty-eight parishes scored high on at least one of four health risk factors, including percent of low birth weight babies, teen birth rate, infant mortality rate and percent of uninsured children.

· Twenty-three parishes scored high on one of two education risk factors - pre-literacy skills measured at kindergarten entry or the percent of children in either publicly funded early childhood education programs (Early Head Start or Head Start) or publicly-funded child care.

Not all the news, however, is bleak. While almost all parishes score high on at least one risk factor, almost every parish has identifiable resources from which to build.

“The report shows that almost all parishes, regardless of their current risk ranking, have strengths from which to build and vulnerabilities that need to be addressed," said Geoff Nagle, director of the Tulane University Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

Programmatic supports, such as Head Start and Early Head Start, mitigate against the adverse consequences of high risk environments. By mapping the reach of these programmatic supports against established risk factors, the report can help to identify gaps between risk and reach.

“These data must be weighed in light of the variety of factors that exist to determine the correlation between the services available in a parish and the level of risk,” cautioned Lina Brou, an epidemiologist at LSU who worked on the report.

With that caution in mind, the authors hope the data will be used by state and community leaders to better calibrate the implementation of programs relative to the level and nature of risk at the local level.

“This is the first step in a long process of assuring we adequately address the need for quality early childhood programs in the state,” said Nagle.

“Early Childhood Risk and Reach in Louisiana” is the second in a series of reports designed to detail early childhood risk factors at the parish-level and the programmatic supports available to offset these risks. This report is unique nationally in presenting these data in map format to visually compare and contrast the risks and reach locally as well as statewide.

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