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Step Forward responds to concerning statistics listed in 2023 Kids Count Databook

The Annie E. Casey Foundation published the 2023 Kids Count Databook this week, indicating Ohio ranked 29th in the nation for overall child wellbeing.

The report, which analyzes social and economic factors to determine how children and families are doing, highlighted why some children are failing to thrive. Researchers categorized their findings into four main categories, including economic wellbeing, education, health and family and community.

The Kids Count Databook found more than 276,000 children are living in poverty in Ohio. That number has increased since 2021.

“The statistic showing how many children are living in poverty is deeply troubling,” Dr. Thea Wilson, Step Forward’s Vice President of Children and Families, said. “It serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for comprehensive support systems to uplift and empower our most vulnerable young citizens.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Ohio is about $55,109. The median household income across Cleveland was more than $62,000.

“No child should have to endure the hardships and limitations imposed by poverty. We need to address this issue head-on and make a collective commitment to providing equitable opportunities for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status,” Dr. Wilson said.

The 2023 Kids Count Databook’s findings within the education category were troubling, too. The data shows fewer young children, ages three and four, are in school. That data shows 162,000 preschool-aged children – or 57-percent – are not enrolled in early childhood education.

Furthermore, it found 65-percent of fourth graders do not meet proficiency standards in reading. More than 70-percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math. About 16-percent of Ohio high school students do not graduate.

“We cannot afford to overlook the critical importance of early childhood education,” Wilson insisted. “It is not only a gateway to academic success, but a means to address systemic disparities. Head Start levels the playing field for all children and helps ensure they are prepared for kindergarten and beyond.”

The 2023 report went into depth, citing that many families lack accessible childcare. Data from the 2020-2021 report showed 13-percent of families who had children under the age of six had reported that someone had either quit, changed or refused a job because of issues with childcare. The report also highlighted the high cost for childcare, stating Ohio’s cost for center-based childcare was more than $11,000. On average, that rate would be nearly half of a single-mother’s income.

“Too many of those raising children are unable to secure care that is compatible with work schedules and commutes,” the report read. “High costs burden families, yet childcare workers themselves, virtually all women and disproportionately women of color, are poorly paid and often unsupported on the job. Parents and workers struggle, as do employers: valuable contributors leave the workforce because they cannot find childcare. And young children themselves – our most precious resource, on whose future America’s economy and democracy depend – are missing out on care and early education during a period of important brain development."

Step Forward is no stranger to the challenges mentioned within the education workforce. The agency is currently hiring for nearly 90 positions, most of which are within Head Start. The report found Ohio childcare workers have a median pay of $13.71 per hour, which is 98-percent worse than any other profession. For perspective, the report claims retail workers make a median wage of more than $14 and customer service jobs pay more than $18 per hour.

“These are dedicated individuals who play a pivotal role in shaping the foundation of a child’s future,” Dr. Wilson acknowledged. “We recognize that attracting and retaining quality teachers requires a competitive compensation, but also professional development opportunities and a deep appreciation for the invaluable impact they have on young lives. Our agency is committed to investing in our educators. We are working to overcome the obstacles that hinder recruitment, because every child deserves the best start in life.”

Early Education advocates, including Groundwork Ohio and the Ohio Head Start Association, have been calling on policymakers and communities to prioritize early childhood education as a fundamental right for all children.

“Step Forward is committed to providing comprehensive early childhood development services to vulnerable children and their families here in Cuyahoga County,” Dr. Wilson said. “We will continue to advocate for increased investments into high-quality Head Start programs. Together, we must work tirelessly to ensure no child is left behind and that every child has the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.”

Give your child a Head Start and enroll today! Click here.

Step Forward Head Start is hiring!

The agency is offering a sign-on bonus of $1,000 for full time employees and $500 for part-time employees.

Positions include teachers, family service workers, nutrition aides and more. Step Forward Head Start is looking for education staff passionate about preparing young students for the future and helping them develop a love for learning early. Take a step toward a new fulfilling career today! Learn more and apply to open positions here.

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