By Jessica Bauer Walker and Sam Radford
On June 29, the Buffalo News gave us a snapshot of the state of our city’s children in the front page article “Buffalo ranks No. 3 in nation for childhood poverty.” In the shadows of Buffalo’s booming development, almost half our children live in poverty. More than 20 percent experience “extreme poverty.”
Education and health outcomes are closely connected to poverty and to each other. The cost per capita to educate and care for children in our schools and health care system is extremely high in relation to the rest of the country.
One would think that this investment would be creating a population of educated, healthy children. This is far from the case. Buffalo public school graduation rates have just plummeted seven points and are now at 47 percent, with rates for the most vulnerable, such as African-American males and refugees, in the 20 percent range.
Health outcomes are equally distressing, with high rates of obesity, sexual health risk factors and engagement in physical violence. Again, poor children are disproportionately represented. Shockingly, nearly 30 percent of Buffalo public high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless to the point where it interfered with their daily activities, and 14 percent thought seriously about committing suicide.
Extensive research shows that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to suffer from a range of physical and mental diseases as they age and to experience low academic achievement. Based on this data, our children will live shorter, sicker, less successful lives than their parents.
We need to collectively face the reality of the situation of our children, and to address the root causes of why they are failing so profoundly. Research tells us that parental involvement is the number one indicator of student academic performance, and that health care accounts for only 10 percent of what children need to be healthy. Yet those who experience the deepest educational and health disparities do not have the tools and resources they need to be involved in their children’s education.
It takes a village to raise a child. Good villages are based on democracy and equity, where everyone has access to quality schools, safe neighborhoods, healthy foods, opportunities for arts and recreation and functional family and social networks. Poor and marginalized families face enormous barriers to improving their situation because our village is in a state of dysfunction.
The time is now to create a new vision for Buffalo, one where each of us assumes responsibility and power for ensuring the success of every one of our children.
Jessica Bauer Walker is executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo. Sam Radford is president of the Buffalo Public Schools District Parent Coordinating Council.