Economic prosperity, education and health care are all key elements for our children's success.
"We invest in children because they are our future." It's said so often that, for some, it has become a tired cliché – we intuitively know the benefit of spending money on programming for children. Only recently in our long political and legislative history have we had the data to back it up.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, the Metropolitan Health District released a report revealing a continued, steady decrease in teen pregnancy birth rates (per 1,000 females ages 15-19) in Bexar County, dropping from 68.8% in 2000 to 42.8% in 2012. The county is slightly better than the Texas rate at 43.9% and lags far behind the U.S. average of 29.4%. [Download the Bexar County Teen Pregnancy Report here.]
San Antonio achieved its SA2020 goal in 2011 by reducing teen pregnancies by 15% by 2020.
SA2020 heavily depended on reliable data to set ambitious, but achievable goals in 2011 and continues to do so in order to keep track of successes and areas that need more work.
"Data is important because we have to make sure that our resources and energy are being directed towards the right place," said SA2020 President and CEO Darryl Byrd.
So what are we doing with this data?
"San Antonio is making progress, but much more needs to be done," said Dr. Thomas Schlenker, director of Metro Health, who called for a new goal: "Aim to be no higher than the (national average)."
Based on this data and that collected through successful programs and partnerships like the San Antonio Teen Pregnancy Prevention Collaborative, Dr. Schlenker revealed four key, strategic programs to achieve this new goal.
- Expand Project Worth sex education programs with the help of Healthy Futures from servicing six to 23 schools middle schools.
- Launch a case management program that concentrates on teen mothers that have already had children, In 2012, 22% of teen mothers who gave birth already had at least one child.
- Work with UT Teen Health to start an accessible age-specific course for local physicians and clinics, may of which lack training for dealing with teens and sexual issues.
- Provide more access to safe and effective contraception, including traditional methods (condoms, pills, patches) and newer, more expensive devices (IUDs/intrauterine devices, LARC/long-acting reversible contraception) that last longer and require less frequent application.
"The hope is that (LARC and IUDs) are going to be a game changer," Dr. Schlenker said.
Behind all these programs, policies and progress? A mountain of data. And this is just for one metric for one county.
Texas ranks 43rd nationally in terms of investment in public education and 42nd in terms of overall child well-being, according to the 2013 National Kids Count Data Book. Hundreds of metrics and data points have gone into the widely respected Annie E. Casey Foundation report, which has grown from about 10 data to more than 280 data points since its start in 1989.
According to the Texas-wide data book released by the Center for Public Priority Priorities (CPPP), child poverty rates increased by 47% from 2000 to 2011. Bexar County children fared better than the state with child poverty increased by 12.8% during that time period with a similar population growth rate of about 18.5%. In 2000, 22.7% of Bexar County children lived in poverty, which has since increased to 25.6% in 2011.
One in four children still live in poverty in Bexar County, despite Texas' strong economic recovery.
Unfortunately, these are not very surprising statistics. CPPP's annual report on children's wellness metrics consistently reveal inadequate investment in child education. There have been significant gains in enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, pre-k programs and a reduction in teen pregnancy. [Click here to download the full 2013 CPPP Kids Count report.]
CPPP also works to analyze and interpret this data.
"Economic prosperity for the state does not necessarily translate into individual prosperity," said Frances Deviney, Texas Kids Count director and senior research associate at the CPPP which released the report as part of the national Kids Count Data Center. State and county unemployment rates continue to climb, Deviney said, and most jobs created are low-wage.
“Texas’ continued underinvestment in education is steering us in the wrong direction,” she said during the press release. “With one of every 11 kids in the U.S. living in Texas, we have an enormous responsibility to make sure our future workforce, innovators, and leaders are fully prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”
"The state of Texas is the best state to do business in," said District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña during his opening remarks at CPPP's report release. "But Texas is one of the worst states to be a kid in."
That's no coincidence, Deviney said, because we invest in that business infrastructure.
"When the state invests more in education, Texas kids do better – it contradicts this notion of just throwing money at something, Texas does a good job at investing in the right places," she said. "We still don't invest enough, but when we do, we see big returns."
Though the report indicates doesn't technically reveal that education investments cause positive child well-being outcomes, she said, there is an undeniable correlation.
"Imagine if we invested in our kids the way we invest in our business infrastructure," Deviney said.
All these metrics – more than 200 for the national book, 80 different per county for CPPP's Texas state book, and those from other local and national organizations – are, of course, deeply interconnected. Healthier kids do better in school and have an increased chance of graduating high school. Teen pregnancy is the number one reason girls drop out of high school. According to Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA), this year in Bexar County some 6,000 cases of child abuse were confirmed, meaning that one out of every 100 children in our community is a victim – the highest per capita ratio in the state of Texas.
Collection of his information means nothing if it's not analyzed, organized and spread in an effective way.
The data center website for Kids Count data is a highly advanced tool that lets you compare metrics and time periods across the nation, states, counties, and cities – www.datacenter.kidscount.org. While not all states and counties record the same data nationwide, several metrics overlap to provide anyone working in child well-being industries much of the information they'll need to enact real change.
Demonstrating a real need of a community is one of the first step in applying for state or federal funding and grants. That's where data like this comes in.
"If we're going to make laws that affect kids across the county, we need good data," Deviney said. While the Kids Count report is not specifically about pushing legislative reform, it's used for research to inform policy. "In 2007 we did a survey of our users (and found) that they had used Kids Count data to bring back $10 million in local grants across Texas," she said.
Data in this quantity can be intimidating, tedious and, well, depressing. But Deviney, trained in statistics, explained that it's one of the most important story-telling tools of all.
“People are kind of scared by the idea of data ... They think you have to have a magical understanding in order to able to talk about it," Deviney told the crowd at the report release. "But we all use numbers everyday to tell our stories, just use the ones you feel comfortable with. We hope these numbers help you share your stories about children in your community."