ENHANCING EARLY CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH SUCCESS
Early Childhood Education and Development
The interactions and experiences during the formative years of a child’s life serve as powerful predictors of future academic and economic achievements, shaping the trajectory of a person’s future. Brain development from birth to age five occurs at a rate greater than any other point in life. Adverse experiences such as poverty, exposure to family violence, and limited access to high-quality early learning opportunities can profoundly impact a child’s early brain development, consequently affecting their long-term success (First Things First 2018).
New parents, expectant parents, and caregivers in households facing greater risks and barriers may encounter significant stresses and challenges that hinder optimal development. Moreover, many families struggle to access affordable and quality childcare services. Currently, Kansas City area centers operate at only 60 percent of their desired capacity, with staff vacancies identified as the primary obstacle preventing them from meeting the demand (The Family Conservancy 2022). Even when childcare or early childhood education slots are available, the high cost often presents a prohibitive barrier for numerous families (Schochet 2019).
The consequences of the early childhood years extend far beyond immediate outcomes, impacting physical, social, and emotional well-being throughout an individual’s life. Recognizing the lifelong implications, last year’s United Ways Impact 100 investment in 14 early childhood centers helped 1,726 preschool age children stay developmentally on track and prepared to enter kindergarten ready to learn. Through strategic investments in programs and systemic solutions, we address the challenges faced in early childhood development within the Kansas City community.
By partnering with these organizations, United Way strives to ensure that every child in our community has equitable access to high-quality early childhood education, comprehensive support, and nurturing environments. We acknowledge the critical importance of the early years and remain dedicated to fostering a community that values and invests in the well-being and future success of our youngest members.
K-12 Education and Out-of-School Time
Education serves as a catalyst for expanded opportunities and social growth, benefiting individuals, communities, and society. The significance of K-12 education extends beyond personal development, as it acts as a predictor of an individual’s socioeconomic success throughout their lifetime. Numerous studies have shown that education is associated with higher lifetime income, improved health and life expectancy, and the creation of healthier communities (Greenstone et al. 2012).
When examining poverty data at the county level in Kansas City, it becomes evident that lack educational attainment, especially not having a high school diploma or equivalency, is strongly correlated with higher poverty rates (U.S. Census Bureau 2022c). Although K-12 education continues to empower individuals in America, significant disparities in achievement persist when considering factors such as race, gender, income, and geographic location. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges to the K-12 system, resulting in noticeable but addressable achievement gaps (Kuhfeld et al. 2022). However, these achievement gaps disproportionately affected high-poverty school districts and COVID-19 exacerbated achievement inequality between White, Black, and Hispanic students (Gamoran and Murnane 2023).
It is crucial to recognize that children and youth spend a significant portion of their time outside of school, with one in five children and youth being unsupervised after the school day ends (Afterschool Alliance, 2019). Therefore, support for programs beyond the school day is essential. Afterschool programs play a vital role in promoting social, emotional, cognitive, and academic development, reducing risky behaviors, fostering physical health, and providing a safe and supportive environment for children and youth (Afterschool Alliance 2019).
United Way remains committed to supporting agencies such as Higher Aspirations, City-Year, SparkWheel, Boys and Girls Clubs of Kansas City, and BoysGrow. These organizations offer comprehensive programs that address the diverse needs of school-aged children and youth both within and outside the classroom. Last year, 14 youth development organizations providers provided 39,856 school-aged children from low-income backgrounds a safe place to go, caring adult role models and programs that build character, promote academic success and help them plan for the future. By investing in these initiatives, United Way aims to ensure equitable access to educational opportunities and holistic support for the well-being of young individuals in our community.
Post-secondary education serves as a crucial pathway to both economic mobility and personal fulfillment. It encompasses a wide range of educational pursuits, including credit-bearing degrees, certificates, licenses, industry certifications, noncredit training, and apprenticeship certificates. The attainment of post-secondary education offers individuals positive earnings gains, with the extent of these gains varying based on the type of degree or certificate and individual or regional factors (Daugherty 2022). While there are exceptions, in general, higher levels of educational attainment are associated with higher earnings.
Research consistently shows that individuals with higher education credentials, especially those who stack multiple credentials, experience greater income levels. For instance, individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn 25% more over their lifetime compared to those with only a high school diploma, and those with a master’s degree earn an additional 14% on top of the earnings of individuals with a bachelor’s degree (Carnevale, Cheah, and Wenzinger 2021). However, it is important to acknowledge that significant disparities in earnings returns based on gender, race, and other demographic factors persist. Additionally, the burden of student debt can pose challenges in accessing post-secondary education and limit the potential earnings returns (Perry, Barr, and Romer 2021).
Given that post-secondary education is instrumental in achieving higher earnings, reducing unemployment rates, lowering incarceration rates, and fostering greater civic engagement (Long 2014), United Way is committed to supporting programs that provide opportunities for post-secondary education and address the barriers that contribute to disparities in the positive effects of degrees and credentials. United Way supports eight agencies providing post-secondary and/or career pathway experiences to over 52,000 people in Kansas City.
Through these collaborative efforts, United Way aims to ensure equitable access to post-secondary education and promote the holistic development of individuals, empowering them to improve their economic prospects and contribute to the well-being of their communities.
Child abuse, encompassing physical, sexual, emotional abuse, and neglect, is a pervasive and grave issue that our community faces. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least one in seven children in the United States have experienced child abuse or neglect within the past year, with many cases going unreported, suggesting that the actual numbers are likely higher (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2022). Based on this ratio, nearly 65,000 children in Kansas City are estimated to have endured child abuse or neglect in the last year (U.S. Census 2022c). Alarmingly, abuse and neglect rates are five times higher for children living in low socioeconomic status (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2022). Without appropriate intervention, the consequences can be profound.
Children and youth who undergo trauma, including abuse or neglect, face increased risks of long-term emotional, behavioral, and physical health problems (Annie E. Casey Foundation 2023). To address this critical issue, it is imperative that we focus on prevention, response, and supporting the recovery of children and youth who have suffered abuse. United Way is dedicated to supporting a diverse range of approaches that foster safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments for children. Over the last year, United Way invested in a continuum of programs across 16 organizations for children who have experienced abuse and neglect which helped 7,378 children with the support (including assessment, outpatient therapy, and residential treatment) they need to heal from their trauma.
Through these partnerships and initiatives, United Way strives to create a community where child abuse is prevented, survivors are provided the necessary support, and all children can grow and thrive in an environment free from harm.
Foster Case Support
Foster care plays a crucial role in providing stability and essential support to children and adolescents who have been deprived of proper care or subjected to abuse and neglect in their homes. In Kansas, there are over 6,000 children in out-of-home placements (OOHP), Missouri has more than 13,000, and within the Kansas City metro area there are around 2,500 children in OOHP (Kansas Department for Children and Families 2023; Missouri Department Social Services 2023). The transition into foster care is incredibly challenging for these young individuals, as they face the absence of family, familiar surroundings, and uncertainty about their future.
The primary goal of foster care is to reunite children and adolescents with their parents or primary caregivers, a successful outcome achieved nearly 50% of the time (Annie E. Casey Foundation 2022). For most kids, once they exit the system, they do not return. However, in cases where reunification or adoption is not possible, there is a risk of young individuals aging out of the foster care system. Without sufficient support, including plans for housing, these youth are more susceptible to experiencing homelessness, unemployment, limited access to post-secondary education, early parenthood, and enduring poor health outcomes (KVC Kansas 2021).
Supporting the foster care system, implementing programs that address the social and emotional needs of children and youth in foster care, and assisting young adults who have aged out of the system are critical components of United Way’s investment strategy to ensure every child can thrive. To accomplish this, United Way partners with organizations such as KVC-Niles, Cornerstones of Care, Crittenton Children’s Center, Drumm Center for Children, and FosterAdopt Connect. Together, we provide comprehensive support to individuals in the foster care system at any age, striving to create a brighter future for each one of them.
Thank you to research and community partners for supplying information and support critical to this community needs index including: First Things First, The Family Conservancy, US Census Bureau, Sparkwheel, Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, BoysGrow, Centers for Disease Control, Afterschool Alliance, City Year, High Aspirations, Annie E Casey Foundation, Kansas Dept for Children and Families, Missouri Dept of Social Services, KVC, Cornerstones of Care, Crittenton Children’s Center, Drumm Farm Center for Children, Foster Adopt Connect.