In response to this crisis, Save the Children is announcing new and expanded efforts to support vulnerable children, including supporting programs here in the United States, strengthening family reunification efforts, programming to address root causes in Latin America and continuing to speak out against policies that are harmful to children.
“Children and their families are fleeing unspeakable violence in their home countries and face a long and dangerous journey to the U.S. border, with the hope of a better life. Last year, I met a 13-year-old boy in El Salvador who recounted the story of how his best friend, beaten by a gang because he refused to join, died in his arms. After sharing that heart-wrenching story, he told me his fear: ‘I don’t think I’ll ever grow to be an adult in my country.’ No child should live with this kind of fear, with so little hope for the future,” said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children. “Simply put, our children deserve better.”
Save the Children is calling on all people who care about kids to use your voice and take a stand with Save the Children.
Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Save the Children has been responding to disasters all across the United States — from small local floods to the most destructive hurricanes and tornadoes in recent history, and everything in between. Despite the many differences in those storms, we have seen one commonality across communities in every corner of the country: far too often, emergency managers don’t always know where child care programs are located. Our smallest and most vulnerable children are sometimes hiding in plain sight, with early childhood programs in a wide variety of locations, including churches, schools, strip malls, hospitals and downtown office buildings.
In 2015, we launched a partnership with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute to solve that. Funded by a grant from global healthcare company GSK, we’ve worked with two pilot communities — Putnam County, New York, and Washington County, Arkansas, to raise the visibility and inclusion of child-serving institutions like summer camps, public, private and charter schools, foster care agencies and, of course, early childhood programs, in community-wide emergency planning. This work has culminated in the launch of the Resilient Children Resilient Communities (RCRC) Toolbox, a set of resources designed to help communities plan for and better protect their youngest residents.
Earlier this year, as part of a larger community exercise, we worked with two child care programs in Washington County, Arkansas, to test the evacuation and shelter in place procedures they established with a full-scale exercise. One child care program evacuated a classroom of 12 students, put them on a school bus, and received them at another early childhood center over a mile away. For local leaders, it was a chance to see how these child care programs implement their plans, and what support first responders and other partners can offer to keep children safe. For the 12 boys and girls, however, it was a fun field trip to meet some new friends and play with some new toys. In fact, as they were leaving the evacuation location, one of the little girls asked “when are we going to have the fire drill Ms. Jennifer told us about?,” not realizing that their field trip had, in fact, been the drill. For one boy, the most exciting part of the whole thing was the chance to have a different snack at snack time!
Through resources like the RCRC toolbox and the Get Ready Get Safe initiative, Save the Children is determined to share the best information and resources, so that every community is ready to protect its children when disaster strikes.
When you shine a light on where poverty in America has the strongest grip on children’s lives, it’s most often in our wide open spaces.
From the hills and hollers of Appalachia in the east, to the Deep South, all the way to California’s distressed Central Valley and beyond, children are more likely to experience childhood ender events related to poverty.
Rural child poverty1 in the United States is a subject that is rarely discussed in today’s national conversation, but given the findings of the new research in Save the Children’s 2018 End of Childhood Report – and Index, it should be.
How is Rural Child Poverty in the U.S. Defined?
According to this first-of-its-kind analysis of rural child poverty rates across America, rural child poverty is much more pervasive than one might think.
Poverty affects more than one billion children worldwide, including millions in the U.S. And while most Americans think child poverty is only an urban issue, child poverty rates are higher in rural areas. Nearly 1 in 4 rural children grow up in poverty.
What Percent of Children Live Below the Poverty Line?
In 2016, 23.5% of America’s children in rural areas were impoverished as compared to 18.8 % in urban areas. On the county level, between 2012 and 2016, 41 counties in the United States had child poverty rates of 50% or higher, 93 % of which (38 out of 41) were rural.2
6.1 million live in the South; 3.2 million live in the West; 2.7 million live in the Midwest; 2.0 million live in the Northeast
Certain geographic areas of America, including the Mississippi Delta, the Southwest, Central Valley and Appalachia, have the highest rates of persistent child poverty and are mostly rural. The vast majority of poor, rural African American children live in the South, where child poverty rates are historically the highest. Native American children, whose poverty is concentrated in the Southwest and Northern Plains, and Alaskan native children have the second highest rural poverty rate at 39.3%. One-third of rural Hispanic children are poor; their poverty is concentrated in the South and West. Poor rural white children, in comparison, tend to be spread across Appalachia.3
4.9 million are aged 0-5; 4.9 million are 6 to 11; 4.2 million are 12 to 17
Across rural America, children ages 0 to 5 have a poverty rate of 27%. This is compared to 24% of children ages 6 to 11 living in poverty and 20% of children ages 12 to 17. Young children in rural areas also face 1.5 times the rate of deep poverty as their non-rural peers, 13% versus 9%. Deep poverty means a child’s family has an income below half of the federal poverty line. This is especially concerning because deep, pervasive poverty often leads to long-lasting developmental and health problems, further perpetuating the cycle.4
8.1 million are children of single mothers; 4.5 million live in married couple families; 2.1 million are children of single fathers
Scarcity of jobs, geographic isolation and lack of transportation often pose greater earnings challenges for rural parents than urban parents.5 Rural parents also tend to have less education and a higher incidence of underemployment, which places their children at higher risk for poverty. In rural America, half of all children living with single mothers are impoverished (51.5%) as compared to 11.9% of rural children in married-couple families. This means that children of single mothers in rural areas are four times as likely to live in poverty as their peers with both parents at home.
890,000 are children with disabilities
Nationally, 29% of disabled children are poor, compared to 19% of non-disabled children. In rural areas, poverty rates among disabled children climb to 35%. In other words, over one-third of disabled children in rural areas are growing up poor.6
The impact of child poverty unfolds over the course of a lifetime
Research has linked child poverty in rural areas to low levels of well-being during both childhood and adulthood, encompassing poor educational, economic, behavioral and health outcomes.
To learn more about how Save the Children helps America’s hardest-to-reach children, and how you can help children in America, visit us at www.savethechildren.org/usa.
1. In the United States, being in poverty is officially defined as having an income below a federally determined poverty threshold. Poverty thresholds were developed in the 1960s and are adjusted annually to account for inflation. They represent the federal government’s estimate of the point below which a family of a given size has cash income insufficient to meet basic needs. The thresholds form the basis for calculating the “incidence of poverty,” which is typically reported as a headcount or as a percentage of the population. ↩
2. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Rural Poverty & Well-Being. April 19, 2018.↩
3. Farrigan, Tracey. Child Poverty. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Accessed April 3, 2018.↩
4. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Rural Poverty & Well-Being. April 19, 2018.↩
In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 90 years tore across the island, packing winds over 150 miles per hour. As is often the case these days, attention has moved on to other crises at home and abroad, but we must not forget Puerto Rico. In mid-April , after months of slow progress, the island completely lost power again. And for the American families still without basic services and the children who have collectively lost out on millions of full school days, the hurricane is still a daily reality.
Here are six things you’ve probably forgotten about Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico but shouldn’t.
Life is Not Back to Normal in Puerto Rico Today. Even before April’s massive blackout, 10% of the island remained without power and for more than 50% of households in some rural and mountainous regions, power has yet to be restored. Frequent blackouts across the island cause residents to relive the immediate effects of the hurricane long after it has passed. Some families still do not have clean drinking water or reliable sanitation systems. Because conditions on the island remain bad, more than 20,000 students have left the island and lost days, weeks and in some cases months of learning. Tens of thousands of houses still have tarp roofs.
Schools in Puerto Rico are not fully operational. Today, some schools are still unable to operate on a full day schedule because they lack reliable power, which influences a wide variety of services like sanitation pumps, the cafeteria and learning. This is unacceptable and considerably slower than it took to reopen schools in Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Hurricane Irma. In addition to regaining power, it is imperative that the government develop a stronger plan to help children make up for lost learning and improve the quality of education on the island.
As physical damage continues to be repaired, emotional wounds need attention too. Catastrophic natural disasters often cause people to witness wide-scale destruction, be torn from routine and normalcy, and sometimes even experience the loss of a loved one. At this point, black-outs serve to quickly remind people, and in particular, children, of the trauma they experienced. Psychological support is needed for parents, teachers, principals and caretakers in addition to the island’s children.
Puerto Ricans are resilient and want to rebuild. I grew up in Puerto Rico. And in my multiple trips to the island over the past months, I have met countless people who are working as fast as they can to rebuild what was lost and build back their communities even better than they were before. That includes Alexandra and her brother, who I met in one of our child-friendly spaces while their parents worked to salvage all they had lost. The determination of their family to make Puerto Rico home again was motivating, and I know we can do better for the island.
History will judge how American citizens and the government aided Puerto Rico not only in the immediate aftermath of the storm but also in the long-term recovery. There have been amazing stories of people helping one another and Puerto Ricans showing their strength and resiliency but simply put, more should have been done and more must be done. Puerto Ricans urgently need reliable, functioning power, and Congress should allocate more funding that puts children’s education and recovery needs front and center. And we all must resolve not to forget our fellow Americans who are still suffering seven months after Hurricane Maria.
Carlos Carrazana is the chief operating officer and executive vice president of Save the Children. Learn more about Save the Children’s Hurricane Maria response at savethechildren.org/Hurricane-Maria.
Sarah Belanger is an Early Childhood Program Specialist. She supervises Early Childhood Home Visitors in Jackson County, Kentucky.
When I think of why we are in Jackson County, lyrics from Paul Simon’s song “Sound of Silence” come to mind: “Silence like a cancer grows/ Hear my words that I might teach you/Take my arms that I might reach you/But my words, like silent raindrops fell/And echoed in the wells/of silence.”
A child not learning causes a type of silence in a community. In the song, Simon compares the growth of silence to cancer, just as a lack of learning can spread ignorance, misinterpretation, and place limitations on a child’s potential.
Members of Jackson County’s communities, however, are realizing that they can change the way their children are learning by committing to early childhood education. I had the privilege of meeting one such mom, Courtney*, who signed up for our Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) program. Targeting children from birth to age five, our program builds strong foundations for parenting and school readiness. As part of the program, a home visitor regularly provides Courtney with information on child development and helped her plan activities that help her use her own skills and resources to support her children’s development. In addition to home visits, ESSS facilitates parent/child groups, book bag exchanges, and community connections.
Courtney was once a young mother from rural Kentucky, who, like many parents in isolated regions, had no idea that her relationships and actions would have a significant impact on her babies’ brain development. For years she survived “on a shoestring” — as they say around here — without a job and succumbing to the temptations poverty presents – one being substance abuse. Although she desired to be a good mother to her three children, they were eventually put in the foster care system.
Having her children taken away motivated Courtney to change her life. She worked hard to recover from drug dependency, and succeeded. In time, she married and had three more children.
I am impressed by the strides Courtney has made to become a better mother. I’ve seen firsthand how she embraced the Early Steps to School Success program and understands now how important it is to read to her children. Through a resource called Vroom — an initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation — she learned that she could have a part in her children’s brain development. The five principles – look, chat, follow, stretch, take turns – help parents understand the science behind their child’s learning. Vroom incorporates activity cards, an app and a playbook as learning tools. It was humbling to hear the sound of children learning in Courtney’s home.
Not only has Vroom and ESSS helped Courtney, but events have been held in all three of the elementary schools in Jackson County to share the Vroom message. Community members have come together to share information as well. Every time a Save the Children home-visitor meets a family, more people in Jackson County hear that they can help their children learn, and make a commitment to teach others to stop the sound of silence.
*Name is changed for privacy
To learn more about how Vroom is innovating Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, visit our website.
As the sun starts to set behind the mountains, I remember that I left my Dramamine in the suitcase. There is no cellphone signal on these winding roads taking me down and around sharp curves. As such, I’m not able to search my iPhone for a Walgreens. And come to think of it, I haven’t really seen any kind of store in the last twenty minutes. Did I mention that I’m in America? This road I’m navigating (and stomaching) is taking me to an elementary school nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, in one of the poorest counties in the United States.
To be clear, this community is poor in resources, but certainly not in spirit.
As we pull into the parking lot, we see a “Welcome Save the Children” message on the school’s billboard. The lot is already full of cars, and little ones are tugging at the hands of their grown-ups to get through the doors. It’s now dark, and Thursday. Oh to have that much enthusiasm at the end of the week! We stroll in behind them, our arms loaded down with boxes of books donated from Scholastic, who partners with U.S. Programs to get more books into the hands of the children we serve. The closer we get to the library, the louder the conversational hum gets. I thought this was going to be a small family night for first graders.
We are greeted by a woman wearing a Save the Children shirt. She presents an air of leadership, so I assume she is the Principal. “Welcome to our school! We are so glad y’uns could make it out. The kids are so excited to do their Readers’ Theater. Everybody’s here,” she smiled and added with a Southern twang.
The library is packed. Parents, grandparents, babies, children convincingly dressed as animals, other non-animal children… We found a corner of the room, and the woman who greeted us turned her attention to addressing the crowd. She introduces the Save the Children visitors, and proceeds to enthusiastically share the school’s sponsorship program plan with the community.
She remembers to introduce herself, “Oh, and I’m Belinda, the Sponsorship Community Liaison.” She’s not the Principal, but an extremely motivated and proud community member who works with sponsorship. I’m floored. And thrilled!
This was the first Literacy Family Engagement night for the school, paid for by Save the Children sponsorship, of many more planned for the rest of the year. This school joined us as a new partner, trying out this new program seeking to reach more children, and empower more communities to come together to help kids be successful at school. This night was the culmination of months of planning between the school, parents, members of the community and Save the Children. For me, it felt like the culmination of four years of my life as the Director of Sponsorship in the United States. Seeing this program play out before my very eyes was more gratifying than I can explain. But I’ll try.
You see, we’ve always been a little different here in the U.S. Poverty looks very dissimilar internationally, and the needs of children overseas are certainly more obvious at a glance. This is not the case in rural America. Addressing the impact poverty makes on children here is not always providing basic needs, installing running water, or building a school. Here, it’s more subtle. The road out of poverty is more winding and curved, but after what I’ve seen tonight, I think we’ve found some capable navigators. Right there they stood, packed into a library wearing tails, whiskers and duck feet, reading aloud to their families and community while acting out the story.
These first graders will be navigating their way right out of the hills of have-not, around the twists and turns of grade-level reading, and upward to the peaks of their own success. In the U.S. a child’s chances of breaking the cycle of poverty are only as good as the quality of their education. Similar to my car-sick journey to the school, the road out of poverty is long and daunting when you’re not equipped with the things you need for the journey. But these kids have something special – this community, and more than 21,000 sponsors in the U.S. providing support along the way. Thanks to sponsors, these students have new books to read and activities like the Readers’ Theater to participate in, getting both kids and parents excited about education and the future.
Despite the darkness peaking behind those smoky mountains, the future is looking really bright for kids in this small, rural town.
In rural Kentucky where 26 percent of children live in poverty, children face many challenges at home and in school. But with help from our sponsors, our sponsorship program is giving children in the United States the skills they need to succeed, and the opportunity for a brighter future.
Sarabeth just started second grade and loves participating in the sponsorship program at her school. When asked how reading makes her feel, Sarabeth answered, “It makes me smart”. You can find her reading her favorite book, Dinosaurs Don’t Eat Broccoli, or dreaming of going to college and becoming a doctor when she grows up.
Sarabeth didn’t always love reading. She was referred to Save the Children because her reading assessment scores were low and she was falling behind her peers. Since joining the program and getting the support she needs, Sarabeth has shown great improvements in more ways than just one. Her teacher, Mrs. Collins, reports that she has seen a difference in her reading comprehension, spelling and vocabulary skills. “I’ve seen much improvement in Sarabeth and look forward to seeing more at the end of this year,” she says.
Sarahbeth has also developed confidence and social skills thanks to the sponsorship program. Her mother says, “I have noticed that she is becoming more confident and more willing to speak out.” Sarabeth’s mother says that her daughter now loves going to school since joining the program. “Save the Children is a great program! Sarabeth has made new friends, improved her schoolwork and has become more confident. It also allows her to be more socially active than ‘regular’ school does. It’s good to see programs like this help our kids so much. Thank you!”
Sarabeth isn’t the only child who has made great strides since joining sponsorship. Mrs. Jarvis, a Save the Children program coordinator, sees the difference in so many children who are developing a love of reading. “I am encouraging students to choose books based on interest and reading ability. We have book talks that students enjoy and are beneficial to them in understanding what they’ve read. As a classroom teacher, that was not always possible as time was precious and there was always more to do than could be accomplished in a day! The Save the Children program is allowing children to develop a love of reading and allowing me to rediscover my love of reading also.”
Sarabeth and so many children like her in Kentucky are making great progress, thanks to sponsors like you. We’re excited to see where Sarabeth goes next – it seems like the sky’s the limit!
Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children
When I went to Texas after Hurricane Harvey hit, I met families who had already been through the unimaginable—fleeing their homes in waist-deep water, carrying a few precious belongings over their heads, and trying to find a safe space for their children in huge shelters not designed for the littlest evacuees. Now that the immediate danger is past, they are dealing with the uncertainty of what their homes and futures hold.
In the midst of the chaos, Save the Children is helping kids cope. We set up Child Friendly Spaces in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas—bright, welcoming places for children to play with volunteers trained in helping children through trauma. We distributed supplies like cribs, strollers and wash basins to families in shelters across Texas and in Louisiana, so that parents can care for their babies and toddlers. And now we’re supporting child care centers so they can get back up-and-running—helping parents get back to work and helping children get back to learning and playing.
Even with recovery underway in Texas, Save the Children turned our attention to Hurricane Irma. In Florida alone, more than 4 million children were potentially impacted during Hurricane Irma and nearly 200,000 people were in shelters across the state. As families return to their homes and rebuild, we have supplies for babies, toddlers and children ready for distribution wherever they’re needed most.
The American public’s generosity to their neighbors has been wonderful to see. We were honored to be part of the Hand in Hand telethon last night to benefit the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and I’m so grateful for the ongoing support for families and children who have seen their world turned upside-down.
We know that children’s needs don’t end when the rain and flooding stops. Save the Children will be there for kids today, tomorrow and over the coming weeks and months to help them cope, rebuild and plan for the future.
Dayla is in the 1st grade and participates in our sponsorship and in-school literacy programs in her town in Mississippi. Dayla is normally quiet but gets very excited when she hears from her sponsors. Reading the letters and drafting her replies have helped to expand her vocabulary and improve her reading skills. She loves that her sponsor encourages her to do well in school.
This is Dayla’s first year being enrolled in school and Save the Children programs have been a big help with that transition. Since participating, she’s became more eager to go to school and especially to attend the programs. She has begun talking and participating more in class. Dayla has also been paired with a Foster Grandparent which provides another supportive relationship. And we all know how important supportive, caring relationships are to children’s development. Dayla is excited to improve her reading skills and has made many new friends in the programs.
Dayla’s self-esteem has improved dramatically since she began school. She has become much more confident and has a positive outlook about school. Her mom is pleased with her progress. Her mom shared, “Save the Children has really been a great help for my child. My child used to be very quiet and not eager to read, but now she’s participating more in class and improving her reading skills.” Dayla has had a successful first year of school thanks to the support of sponsorship and in-school literacy programs.
Who doesn’t love summer? For millions of kids around the country, it’s a time to have fun and experience new adventures on family vacations, at camp or through locally-organized summer activities. But these experiences are often out of reach for the more than 15 million U.S. children growing up in poverty. Especially those in isolated rural communities such as the small town where Alayshia, 8, lives in Orangeburg County, South Carolina.
As a result, children from low-income families typically fall two to three months behind in math and reading each summer. Meanwhile, more privileged children keep advancing during those same summer months. Summer learning loss is the biggest reason why children from disadvantaged backgrounds are often three years behind their peers by the time they reach fifth grade¹. Where Alayshia and her brother live, there are no summer programs for them to attend.
There aren’t many places for them to go either. Sometimes, Alayshia, 8, walks to a nearby friend’s house or her uncle’s. The closest library is tiny and only opens for a few hours on certain days of the week. There is no swimming pool, rec center, or summer camp within reach. “We used to have a little pool,” Alayshia says. “It’s on the trash pile now because it got a hole in it.”
Alayshia’s mother Novella recently got laid off from the factory where she’s worked on and off for 13 years. After Alayshia eats breakfast and plays video games in the morning, her mom has her and her brother sit down to do some math worksheets and practice reading for half an hour. “I wish there was a summer program for them to go to,” Novella says.
In neighboring Barnwell County, South Carolina, Ja’Faith wakes up every morning at 5 when her father, a food service manager, returns from letting the milkman into her school. They often read together over breakfast, then Ja’Faith and her brothers play while waiting for the bus to take them to Save the Children’s SummerBoost Camp at their school.
Ja’Faith, 8, had a tough start in life that her adoptive parents haven’t yet fully explained to her. But they say her early experiences made concentrating in a typical classroom setting challenging. The way SummerBoost Camp mixes games and physical activity with academics has been a big hit with Ja’Faith.
“She loves the program. She hasn’t missed a day,” says her dad, Jack.
Ja’Faith looks forward to attending SummerBoost each day. “It’s fun,” she says. “I like to learn.”
At SummerBoost Camp, the day gets started with a call and response game that get the kids excited for a day of learning and fun. Children rotate through blocks of academically-focused activities and games, as well as community service, physical activity and team building.
The summer program also includes two healthy meals – breakfast and lunch. During the school year, some local kids show up for school hungry on Mondays. For many, the summer months would be especially tough if they couldn’t eat at camp. “They get fed and they stay off the streets,” says Jack. Together with the learning, it’s a winning combination, he says. “Now when school opens up, it’s just a refresher course and they’re ready to go. They didn’t sit around and just watch TV all day or eat popcorn and chips.”
During the school year, Ja’Faith participates in Save the Children’s after school program, which focuses on helping struggling readers catch up. She has made steady progress through the school year, and her SummerBoost coaches – and her friends – keep her motivated and learning all summer long. That helped Ja’Faith start first grade strong last year and even make the honor role. Her dad says, “I asked Faye a few times ‘What do you want to be? What do you want to do?’ She would always say ‘I want to work for Save the Children, or save a child in some kind of way.’”
Since SummerBoost runs for six hours, Save the Children can expand its after school focus on literacy and health to cover the “STEAM” subjects – science, technology, engineering, art and math. Here, Ja’Faith and her brother have fun playing a game that helps them practice math equations.
Back in Orangeburg County, Alayshia and her brother make up their own games in their backyard. When she started second grade at the end of last summer, Alayshia tested as reading at a low first-grade level. Over the course of the school year, Save the Children’s after school program helped her catch up and even reach a third-grade reading level. “She made a whole lot of progress, and I’m proud of her for making that progress,” her mom says. “Now, I’m afraid she might fall off back off and then have to work her way back up to that same progress.”
With no funding to provide SummerBoost at Alayshia’s school, all that her Save the Children literacy tutors could do at the end of the school year was send home some books with Alayshia and encourage her to keep up her reading. But with no summer program, she also won’t get the extra help she needs in math, which was a big struggle for her this past year. When she returns to school next month, Alayshia will be repeating the second grade.