Making Hawaii's At-Risk Children a Priority


Making Hawaii’s At-Risk Children A Priority

The odds are stacked against Hawaii’s at-risk children, and these inequities need to be addressed. Entering kindergarten, many children are up to a year behind their peers in skills like reading and counting, which leads to potential lost opportunities for attending higher education or attaining a career.

For young children, stable and consistent learning environments are critical for early brain development. Research underscores the benefits of high-quality early learning. Children have better cognitive and language skills and are better able to regulate their emotions and manage adversity. Having these skills at kindergarten entry can eliminate the achievement gap and the need for costly remediation.

Hawaii’s legislators have an opportunity to make a colossal impact on the lives of children and on our economic future. Bills that could positively impact Hawaii’s young children and families include those that would constructively effect early learning, homeless children and paid family leave.

With legislators under pressure to trim budgets, low-income working parents are facing a paradox. Just when they have to work longer hours to stay afloat, they are losing access to the thing they need most to stay on the job and prevent homelessness: a government subsidy that helps pay for child care.

Quality child care is a key component to every state’s early childhood strategic plan. Child care helps communities prosper. It gives children the opportunity to learn and develop skills they need to succeed in school and in life. It gives parents the support and peace of mind they need to be a productive worker.

Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in the nation. It is estimated that one-third of our homeless are children!

We should make a commitment to serve distinctive groups of the homeless, such as families with children, domestic violence victims and individuals with disabilities in ways that help address the specific issues they are facing.

The extraordinary demand placed on our workforce puts families in jeopardy. Workers often must choose between providing care to a newborn or incapacitated parent and making a living.

Americans put in more hours than workers in other industrialized countries, and have less time off. What’s more, the United States is the only developed nation that does not provide paid time away to care for family members.

Women provide the majority of unpaid care at home, despite also being the primary breadwinner in 40 percent of families. Paid family leave is, first and foremost, about equal opportunity for all. And for that reason, lawmakers must recognize that paid family leave is a civil rights issue.

Once again, our state Legislature has squandered the opportunity to pass a strong paid-family-leave policy this session. California is a good example of what we could bring to Hawaii with that kind of law. Their statewide paid-leave program provides support for new families, and led to 83 percent of workers using the program returning to their previous job.

The Washington Post reported that 87 percent of California businesses had no increased cost, and 9 percent said the program saved money by reducing employee turnover and saving them from paying their own benefit costs. Similar programs have also been working in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Washington and Washington D.C.

If Hawaii’s future is dependent on a reliable and well-trained workforce, we are destined for longstanding failure if we continue not to support programs that benefit the well being of our youngest vulnerable children and their families. It is time for us to become a voice for children, demanding not parity but priority in funding those who begin life at a tremendous disadvantage.

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