Andi Egbert, Minnesota Compass
"When I approach a child, he inspires me in two sentiments: tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become." - Louis Pasteur
First off, we did not select the measures. As with all of the topics on Compass, this new section followed the direction of a passionate and committed advisory group. The group felt that fine-grain demographic data was an essential starting point for the state and communities seeking to learn more about their young people and how to serve them better. That is why Population Trends has scores of graphs showing our state's children by age, gender, race/ethnicity, parents' nativity and even by poverty intervals.
The advisory group recommended this new section focus on developmental assets that help steer (and cheer) children toward a successful adulthood. Eventually we settled on two key measures that do just that – Connection to Caring Adults and Enrichment Activities. Both of these positive features of a child's life have a research base behind them, revealing that they help children avoid risky behaviors, develop resilience, improve their emotional competencies, display more goal-oriented behavior, improve academic outcomes, and more.
Finally, Groups at a Glance is just a great tool to discover lots of data about children's lives, all presented in one place. For example, by visiting our profile for all children, you quickly can find out that two in five of Minnesota youth, age 16-19, are working, and a similar number volunteer. These profiles also show how childhood can be a vastly different experience for our state's children, depending on their race. For example, nearly half of the Black children in Minnesota live in poverty, and 16 percent of American Indian children are uninsured.
Diversity and immigration, although their impact is very uneven across the state. The number of Hispanic children in Minnesota has grown 300 percent since 1990, and in two counties, more than one-third of the child population is Hispanic. In Ramsey County, one in six young people is Asian. Of all the Black children in our state, 35 percent have at least one foreign-born parent.
I hope it will help shift the conversation toward how we can put more positive and supportive things in all of our children's lives, not just seek to remove negative influences. While the latter is important, it is downstream thinking. If we surround children with caring adults, provide quality out-of-school time activities for them, and offer other supports to their families, the likelihood of their engaging in unhealthy behaviors is greatly diminished. On an individual level, I think everyone can think of a concrete way to offer additional support to the young people in their community. It is simple yet powerful.
In addition, I would love to see some spirited competition among local school districts and other communities – vying to outdo each other as the best place for young people to experience caring adults in the community and greater access to enrichment activities. At the district level, the range of support that students experience is wide, whether from caring adults or from those activities that spur learning outside of school time.
Well, I learned anew that Minnesota is a great state to grow up in! This process helped us connect with many passionate advocates for children and youth in our state and learn more about their work. I also reflected on how our investments in children can have cascading benefits across so many other topic areas that we track at Minnesota Compass – better educated workers, a stronger economy, more volunteerism, engagement, and beyond. Really anyone who wants to make this place a better place to live would be wise to start with a child.
Andi is a research associate on the Minnesota Compass project. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.