In June, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released their 2018, Kids Count Data Book, State Trends in Child Well-Being. This year’s report in addition to identifying trends in spheres of economics, health, education, family, and community between 2010 and 2016 (find your state’s ranking here), began strongly emphasizing the importance of the upcoming 2020 U.S. census:
“The 2020 census will determine how much federal funding states and localities receive each year for the next decade. When kids aren’t counted, communities don’t get their fair share of federal dollars for Head Start, school lunches, public health insurance, housing, child care, and myriad other programs and services that help young children in low-income families get a healthy start in life.
What’s more, the census is used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to draw legislative districts at other levels of government. When young children, kids living in poor families, and children of color aren’t counted, their parents and communities don’t get a full voice in electing leaders who will make critical decisions about their futures, violating one of the fundamental principles of representative democracy.”
As it turns out, the most highly undercounted group are children under age five. Often this demographic group lives in families that are hard to count as a result of complex living arrangements, high mobility, limited English proficiency, low educational attainment, and/or location in hard-to-count census tracts. The undercount rates for Latino children under age five in 2010 were especially high, 7.5 percent compared to 6.3 percent for black children, and 2.7 percent for children not black or Latino.
Undercounts are likely to happen again in 2020, the report notes, and might be even more of a concern due to low congressional funding for census activities and the addition of a question about citizenship, which might challenge the ability to identify hard-to-reach areas or decrease people’s voluntary participation respectively.
The report suggests that despite challenges to an accurate population count in 2020, preparations now and leading up to the census can support improved participation. One suggestion is using trusted messengers to reach out to families, especially those who have been traditionally hardest to count. Afterschool and summer programs fit nicely into this group.
Leading up to and during the census roll-out, providers can inform families on what the census is, how it is used, and why it is important to include every family member on their forms. Providers and programs can also offer their computers and internet access to allow families to fill out the forms confidentially on site.
Yet, even in advance of these steps, the report requests that the federal government recommit publically to the legally mandated promise of confidentiality inherent in the census process. If people and/or the programs that will act as messengers do not trust the system to keep respondents’ private data safe, the census will not work, and any investments of time and money spent on the census process and the essential data elicited from the process will not yield the result necessary for our democracy to perform some of its most basic and important functions.
We certainly hope the government will stress the confidentiality of the census count and help communities on the ground encourage all their residents to participate. As a field we understand how important funding for Child Care Development Block Grant dollars, Title I education dollars, nutrition funding, and child health is for the families and communities in which we operate and serve.
For us, in the afterschool and summer field, the lead-up to the 2020 census provides time to look at the big picture of how these buckets of federal money get allocated accurately and efficiently. We have the opportunity to act as trusted family messengers and play an important role in ensuring, for the next decade at least, that services get targeted to those areas and people most in need.
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