02 June 2008

The Will to do Better by Our Kids

Sunday's Commercial Appeal column by Chris Peck featured a presentation by Doug Imig, Director of the Center for Urban Child Policy at The Urban Child Institute, to the LeBonheur Children's Medical Center.

The presentation featured projections about the "Class of 2024" - that is, the kids who were born last year who will be graduating from high school in 2024. Among his findings:

"About 50 percent of the kids in the class of 2024 in Memphis will grow up in poverty,'' he noted.

About one in three will never be comfortable readers. About one in four will have dropped out of high school before graduating. And perhaps 10 percent in each high school year will have an unplanned pregnancy.

These numbers include all students in Shelby County. Exclude the more affluent kids who live in the suburbs from these results, and the picture grows even dimmer for kids living in the heart of Memphis.

Many of the kids who get off to a slow start in school, and who grow up in poverty, never escape these twin burdens. They end up living at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale and clinging to the social service net to simply get by.

The real questions, however, is whether the community has the political will to change the future for these children:

It means thinking of the different outcomes the community would like to see, and changing the politics and social support structure to get to those outcomes.

A place to start, Imig believes, would be for Memphis social service leaders and concerned politicians to search out programs elsewhere that have helped kids and their parents break the mold of their difficult circumstances.

One source for finding such programs is the Promising Practices Network (promisingpractices.net). This national organization has looked at hundreds of social service programs that profess to improve the lives of children. The programs are evaluated carefully and those few that show concrete results are then endorsed as either "proven" practice or showing signs of being a "promising" practice.

What's most important about the presentation given by Dr. Imig is the idea that "Statistics are not destiny. In fact, we know what works with kids to change their lives."By assessing best practices from nationwide programs and taking them to scale based on the eligible kids and families in our community, we can project what kind of a difference we can make in terms of financial and social outcomes in the future. If we invest now, we know that we will make tremendous gains both economically and socially, improving the lives of children and families and making a stronger, safer, more educated, hardworking and well-functioning community free from the legacy of poverty and distress that creates problems for so many of our children.

Click here for the rest of the article from the Commercial Appeal. For more information, you can contact Dr. Imig at dimig@memphis.edu.