Dec. 7, 2005 The people behind the annual Kids Count report want to do more than document the problems of V.I. youth; they want to see some solutions.
In this effort they added a new section to this year's report that offers challenges to the community and then proposes solutions.
Judith Richards, co-director of Kids Count, gave an overview of that section to about 40 people who attended the Kids Count Community Forum at the Buccaneer Resort on Wednesday morning.
Ellie Hirsh, a consultant for Head Start and a panelist in the forum, told the audience that studies have shown that at-risk children who are exposed to quality child care and early education were more likely to succeed in high school and less likely to end up behind bars.
The first community challenged listed in the report and emphasized by Richards was "improve outcomes for at-risk children through high quality early childcare/education."
She added that the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, the producers of Kids Counts, plans to open the first phase of its Family Connection next year. According to the report, this first phase will be a Professional Development Center. This center will help child care professionals with workshops, a resource and educational library and a networking center.
Hirsh in her remarks said it should be the Virgin Islands' priority to train and keep early childhood educators in the territory.
The second community challenge emphasized by Richards came out of statistics illustrating the negative impact of child abuse and neglect.
Richards said child abuse and neglect cases were not always reported for several reasons. She said some authorities don't know who to report the cases to, other authorities don't think the reporting will bring any beneficial results to the victim and still other authorities believe that reporting the incidents will only draw a negative stigma to the child and the family.
The report says, "Child abuse and neglect affects 257 children reported this year, and countless others experiencing incidents that go unreported."
The report adds about abused children, "They are more likely to repeat a grade in school, to suffer chronic medical problems, or to become juvenile law-offenders. As adults, they are more likely to suffer from depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse."
The community challenge is to "Acknowledge and reduce the numbers of child abuse and neglect cases in the territory."
The proposed solution is "Start by teaching and enforcing better reporting of child abuse and neglect cases."
Before going into the analysis section of the 50-page report, Richards discussed some of the statistics in it. CFVI collected the statistics with the help of the University of Virgin Islands, the V.I. Police Department and the departments of Human Services, Health, and Education. The statistics were reported at the Kids Count Conference, held Tuesday at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef Hotel on St. Thomas. (See " Kids Count Says More Children Are Sinking In Poverty").
In her welcoming remarks, Ruth Beagles, CFVI board member, said, "We need a community-wide plan to improve the life of our children."
Dee Baecher-Brown, CFVI's president, moderated the St. Croix event, which included a keynote address by Tamara Copeland, president of Voices for America's Children, an overview of the statistics and then went into a panel discussion dubbed "Our Children Now."
The three panelists were Hirsch, Barbara Jackson, executive director, V.I. Perinatal, and Edward Jones, nutritionist for the Department of Health.
The discussion facilitator was Alda Monsanto, who is serving her fourth term on the CFVI board.
Voices for America's Children is a national organization committed to speaking out for children.
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