Editor’s note: This is a story about the speakers at the Kids Count Factbook breakfast. For related content about data from the Factbook, see this story – 2018 Factbook: What the numbers say about our kids

By Susan Gale

Each year, as a rite of Spring, as one speaker put it, RI Kids Count releases its Factbook – a compilation of hundreds of data points which show how Rhode Island’s 208,640 children are doing.

That number counts kids under age 18, who make up 20% of the state’s population. This year, the Factbook included several new areas of data including: school suspensions, gun violence, and obesity.

The Factbook was released Monday, April 9, 2018, at a breakfast attended by a record-number 570+ elected officials, policy makers, and advocates for children including many child care and school officials. The breakfast took place at the Crown Plaza in Warwick.

Hearing from youth

The highlight of the day was the first speaker – student Marie Shabani from the group Young Voices Rhode Island, who urged the adults in the room to work harder to make Rhode Island and the world better.

“All of us, we cannot back down on what we value,” she said. “We need to speak up – contact your legislators,” – many of whom were sitting just 10 feet in front of her including Rhode Island’s Governor, entire federal Congressional delegation and many local legislators.

Shabani grew up in the Congo but left when she was 6 after she says the government burned down her family home to stop them from helping women in her country. She lived in fear in Uganda and Thailand before coming to the U.S. four years ago. She plans to become an Ob.gyn and go back to the Congo to help women who have been raped – some as young as 8 years old, she said.

“It’s unheard of there to have a woman doctor,” said Shabani.

She thanked her parents for “showing me I could make a big difference in the world. Showing me the world does not need to be the way it is.” Shabani recently helped develop a policy brief about ways to improve educational outcomes and lessen suspensions for girls of color. Every elected official who spoke after her thanked her for bringing youth, insistence, and action to the idea of developing a better world.

Shabani said it is very difficult to hear disparaging remarks about immigrants.

“I feel unwelcome, disrespected, and angry,” she said. “I want all of them to know they are wrong. Young immigrants like us have a lot to offer this country. We are strong in ways they cannot even imagine.”

In addition to Shabani, children from Providence’s Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center sang “We Are a Family” to the delight of the crowd.

Worry about other people too

Keynote speaker Rafael López, former Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, praised the Factbook as a tool to turn insights into action.

“Data is an abstraction, but it is people whose names are Marie,” he said referring to the youth speaker. “This is a time to reflect. The data sure screams at us about things that are hard to look at. This is policy speak for having hard conversations.”

He urged the audience to make RI a “trial run” state where new ideas to solve old problems are given a chance, even when they are not perfect. He referenced the states Foster Care weekend where potential foster parents were able to complete much of the 10 weeks of requirements in one weekend – a method that is believed to be the first in the country.

López talked about economic justice being an important part of racial justice, referencing that Latino people in RI are dead last in the country in terms of an opportunity index. We need to care for more others, he said.

“Being a good Samaritan,” he said. “Instead of worrying what will happen to us if we do something, ask what will happen to them” if you don’t take action.

“No one has the perfect solution,” he said. “But RI is on the path to help you figure that out. We might not have perfect solutions, but we will give it a shot.”

López is currently Managing Director for Accenture’s Health & Public Service North America practice.

Elected officials regularly use the Factbook

Governor Gina Raimondo spoke to the audience about the beliefs we all share including that everyone deserves a safe home and school, good education and job training, and the ability to find a good paying job. “Whatever the zip code, everyone deserves to strive,” she said.

She pointed out actions the state has taken to work towards every Rhode Islander having an equal chance including: tripling the number of pre-K classrooms; ensuring all-day Kindergarten in every town; all high schoolers being able to take college classes and the SAT/PSAT during school time for free; and the new Promise Scholarship which allows qualified graduates to receive two years of classes at the Community College of RI.

Other officials spoke of the importance and value of the Kids Count Factbook.

“It helps us to be better and do more,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “Without the Factbook, we would be operating in the dark.”

He also pointed out that in the most recent federal budget, an extra $610M was added to the $9.9B Head Start program and $5.2B scheduled for child care assistance in block grants with the highest level of discretionary spending in history available, meaning states have more ability to use the money how they need to.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse spoke about the rise in opiod-addicted babies in RI, as shown through the Factbook and said he was working on legislation that would help women and children in RI when it comes to addiction.

State Senator Josh Miller called the Factbook, “A real important collaboration because if we fix something in one part of the state, we fix something for all in our state.”

Susan Gale is publisher of Kidoinfo.com.

 

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