News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

March 13, 2014

EDITORIAL: Our children in poverty

Communities can’t give up trying to help needy kids

TERRE HAUTE — An important gauge for measuring the long-term prospects of a community is the well-being of its children. For all the effort and progress Vigo County has made in rebuilding the economy and improving its quality of life, chronic problems with the welfare of its children still exist.

It’s not for the lack of trying, which is an indication of just how difficult the issue is to address. The root problems are deeply entrenched in local culture. In fact, they are, unfortunately, entrenched in the fabric of our state.

The issue of child welfare was highlighted anew during a Vigo County visit this week by Bill Stanczykiewicz, CEO for the Indiana Youth Institute. It’s Stanczykiewicz’s job to keep a close eye on such things, and he’s been making the rounds throughout the state reminding Hoosiers of the serious issues affecting their communities.

The statistics are startling. Nearly half of Indiana’s public school children receive free or reduced-cost meals through the federal school lunch program. Those children qualify for the service based on family income. What’s worse is that the number of children living in impoverished conditions has increased in the past decade. The deep economic downturn of 2008 and the slow recovery certainly have contributed to that. But Stanczykiewicz points out the problem had worsened before the recession hit.

In Vigo County, 56.4 percent of school kids qualify for the lunch program. In two of its schools, it’s 90 percent or more.

The impact of child poverty is not a mystery. It produces an array of social problems. Children in poverty are often not well-nourished and live in difficult circumstances. When they come to school, they may be ill-prepared to learn.

Terre Haute and Vigo County have done a good job over the years addressing the symptoms. Social services are plentiful to help needy kids and families. The United Way of the Wabash Valley, which raises money and funds numerous programs aimed at helping kids, has provided outstanding leadership on the issue.

But the key to actually reducing child poverty is a complex formula that includes education and more economic opportunity. There are no quick fixes. Still, a community must acknowledge its deficiencies, and while Stanczykiewicz may not be delivering good news, his visits help keep the issue in the public eye.

 

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