During April, the Alaska Children’s Trust and other organizations are raising awareness of the extent and impact of child abuse. It is time for Juneau to take a look at the condition of our most important citizens — our children.
According to the state epidemiologist, in Juneau today, a class of 30 second-graders born between 2009 and 2011, 10 have been the subject of at least one report of child abuse or neglect to the state Office of Children’s Services — most occurring before the age of 5. (Note: I asked a senior Juneau School District administrator and an OCS representative about this shocking statistic. Neither was surprised, and both thought the estimate might be low.)
According to assessments by the state Department of Education and Early Development, in Juneau today, two out of three children are not developmentally “ready to enter kindergarten.” Studies show that many children who start behind never catch up. In fact, state-required academic testing shows that in Juneau, also about two out of three students (roughly the same number who are not ready for kindergarten) fail to become successful in school, statistically resulting in greatly increased risk of lifetime failures including poverty, suicide, crime and drug abuse.
According to the state Department of Health and Social Services, Juneau is above the state average in Adverse Childhood Experiences in four of 10 ACEs categories: sexual abuse (16.3 percent), emotional abuse (32.6 percent), household substance abuse (34 percent) and household mental illness (23.6 percent). Juneau is a high ACEs community in a state that has one of the highest ACEs rates in the nation. ACEs have been proven to have a devastating impact on lifetime success and health.
Is this the Juneau you thought you lived in? If any of these facts seem exaggerated, please check the sources cited and talk to educators and social service providers. Luckily, we can make economically sound investments in our children and young families to greatly improve the lives and outcomes of Juneau’s children by supporting programs for young families that offer prenatal care and parenting skills, and working with the private and nonprofit organizations to end Juneau’s child care crises.
It is well documented that Juneau is in a child care crisis with only half of the 825 child care and pre-kindergarten spaces required by young families. Quality child care is a first line of defense against ACEs, and has a huge positive impact on academic and lifetime success.
Quality child care prepares children for kindergarten, decreases family toxic stress for working parents, involves parents to increase parenting skills, aids early identification and positive prevention and builds resilience in children to overcome adversity. Scientific research has proven that what happens in the first five years of life has the greatest impact on whether or not a child will be successful in school and go on to become a successful healthy adult.
As a nation, we are slowly realizing that if we truly support education, we must begin providing help to young children and families. Across the nation, this advancement is largely being led by cities. Quality child care is the foundation of successfully educated children who become successful healthy adults who will bring new jobs and prosperity to Juneau.
What can you do? As you read this, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s Child Care Task Force is finalizing a plan to support the development of the affordable quality child care that Juneau’s kids and families require. Please tell the Assembly that you support this effort.
Also, let Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Alaska Legislature know that cutting services to families and youth is not fiscally conservative. Failure to invest in Alaska’s families and youth will have far greater costly short- and long-term negative impacts on Alaska.
• Kevin Ritchie lives in Juneau.