Our Views: La. children facing crunch

Continuing challenges with the state budget mean that funding for basic social services is deeply strained, and that reality doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. Those most vulnerable to state budget cuts for social services include many of Louisiana’s children, and neglecting their needs could harm this state for generations.

That’s why state and local leaders should keep in mind a report released earlier this year by the LSU/Tulane Early Childhood Policy and Data Center. The report showed that 55 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes scored “high” on at least one of 11 risk factors for poor early childhood outcomes. Sixty-two of 64 parishes scored “moderately high” on at least one risk factor.

“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, a collaborator on the research. “For many parishes, the primary risk factors are economic in nature, while in other parishes, the risks reside in poor health or educational outcomes.”

The findings are a reminder that boosting success for at-risk children isn’t just a matter for social service agencies. Schools, public health and law enforcement institutions play a role, and the contributions of churches, nonprofits and faith-based organizations are a crucial part of the mix. The key goal should be strengthening families, the most-important influence on a child’s future.

Researchers hope that by comparing local resources and local needs in each parish, they can identify the size of the challenges facing children in communities across Louisiana.

“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, another collaborator on the research.

A full copy of the report is available at http://www.brightstartla.org. We hope the report helps guide Louisiana’s policymakers. At a time when public resources for children are under threat, targeting help where it’s most needed should be an even greater priority.