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Mel Gravely

Webinar Recap: How Race, Ethnicity, and Location Influence Children’s Access to Early Childhood Education (Part 3)

early childhood educationThis is Part Three in our series about the webinar “Race and Place Matter: Head Start and CCDBG Access by Race, Ethnicity, and Location.” In Part One, we examined a study by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and found that low-income children’s access to early childhood development opportunities vary by race, ethnicity, and sate. In Part Two, a study by concluded that Head Start needs and impact vary greatly at the micro-level of individual neighborhoods.

In Part Three of our series, we’ll explore a study by Latino Policy Forum, which breaks down demand for early education services for Latino children in the Chicago area by region, and concludes that while demand is highest in the Chicago metropolitan area, access is lowest in those areas.

Led by its Executive Director, Ms. Sylvia Puente, Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum is a unique advocacy organization that heads a coalition of 20 direct providers of services to Latino communities in the state of Illinois. Latino Policy Forum collects feedback and analysis from these providers, and develops and drives policy on behalf of Latino communities in Illinois. Although the data findings by Latino Policy Forum are strictly in relation to the state of Illinois, Ms. Puente argues that they strongly parallel what is currently happening in other states.

Latino Policy Forum seeks to:
a) Improve educational outcomes for Latinos
b) Advocate for affordable housing among Latinos
c) Promote socially just immigration policies that affect Latinos
d) Strengthen Latino leadership

In the state of Illinois, the number of poor Latino children has grown tremendously.

Between 2005-2014, the state of Illinois experienced a 25 percent increase in poor Latino children, from 344,000 children to 431,000 children. During the same time period in Illinois, the number of poor African-American children declined from 361,000 children to 307,000 children, while the numbers for poor White children generally remained stable at 389,000 children. Note that these figures are based on all children under the age of 18 who live at 200 percent below the federal poverty line.

Demand for low-income children’s services is highest in Suburban areas, where access to services is lowest.

Part 2 of the webinar previously exposed that most poor children in the United States live in urban centers. Keeping this in mind, Latino Policy Forum grouped poor children under the age of 5 by region: Chicago proper; Suburbs (includes the broader metropolitan area minus the city of Chicago); and Downstate (counties outside of the Chicago metropolitan area – i.e. rural areas). Among poor children of all races under the age of 5, data indicates that 29 percent live in Chicago proper, 36 percent live in Suburbs, and 35 percent live in Downstate.

Now let’s look specifically at poor Latino children under age 5 in the same Chicago regions.

The data indicates that while 35 percent of poor Latino children under age 5 live in Chicago proper; 54 percent live in Suburbs (in contrast to 36 percent of all children); and 11 percent live in Downstate. The demand for services among low-income Latino children under age 5 is highest in Suburbs areas and lowest in Downstate.

Access to services in the Chicago area is compromised by workforce competency, use of analysis, and overall political climate.

According to Ms. Puente, high-demand areas in Illinois lack a workforce that can adequately meet the outreach demands of these low-income communities. She points to a shortage in bilingual and bicultural workers who are capable of providing consistent intentional community outreach to culturally diverse communities, especially immigrant families who are unfamiliar with the system. “People need to know the centers and programs are there. If the centers are there, Latinos do come,” she says.

In addition, Ms. Puente argues that deciding where to open Head Start centers needs to be assessed on a more systematic basis, which is not currently the case. She hopes that when assigning Head Start slots, policymakers will heed research findings from studies such as those conducted by CLASP,, and Latino Policy Form.

Finally, the gaps in access among Latino children can also be attributed to the current political climate. Given the changing direction of immigration policy on a federal level, there is growing fear among immigrant communities that seeking services may prompt deportation of family members.

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