Memphis, TN, July 28, 2011 – The Urban Child Institute today released the sixth edition of its definitive publication about the state of children in Memphis and Shelby County, Data Book 2011, a comprehensive report that annually presents the facts about the health, demographics, family and home environment, neighborhoods, and education of our community's children.
The State of the Children of Memphis and Shelby County is available on The Urban Child Institute's new website at www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/data-book.
"Since 2006, the Data Book has been the centerpiece of our work to accomplish our mission of changing public policy with research and knowledge that increases understanding of the interventions that give every child a fair start in life," said Eugene Cashman, president/CEO of The Urban Child Institute. "Most of all, we hope this annual report on the state of our children is a wake-up call that everyone in our community has a role to play – government, the faith community, neighborhoods, grassroots groups, and families."
The mission of The Urban Child Institutes is to improve the lives of children and increase the social capital of Memphis by accelerating the infusion of meaningful knowledge and intervention that will change existing policies. The Institute staff work to connect research and knowledge with action.
Cate Joyce, Director of Data Management at The Urban Child Institute, said that the purpose of the information is "to move early childhood to the front burner of our local priorities and to help Memphis and Shelby County make smarter investments in our children."
She pointed to several trends in the latest Data Book:
- Concentrated poverty in Shelby County is spreading and increasing: one in three census tracts in Memphis now have poverty rates of more than 40%
- Too many children aren't ready for kindergarten, a trend exacerbated by the rising rate of child poverty
- Infant mortality for African American babies is higher today than in 2000 while infant mortality for Caucasian babies has fallen by one-third
- Shelby County continues to perform poorly on most measures of child health and these are effects that last a lifetime
- Teen birth rates for African-Americans have risen slightly since 2002 while dropping 25% for whites
- The connections between family income and a child's readiness for school is not fixed: more of our children do better than our demographics would suggest
"The facts and statistics may be complex," said Ms. Joyce, "but the answer to changing them is simple: It's about making the investments in the lives of our youngest children that improve educational outcomes, build a better workforce, improve our economic competitiveness, reduce crime, and expand the regional economy."
The Urban Child Institute report emphasizes the importance of the first three years of children's lives when their brains grow to 80% of their adult sizes, said Mr. Cashman. "The greatest returns are made with investments while a child's brain is undergoing incredible growth," he said. "It's in everyone's enlightened self-interest to become advocates for the greatest return on investment in our children's lives, and it's clear from the research that this is the period before a child's third birthday."
He said that today our community is investing only 2.5% of its public education funding in the first three years, the time when it can have the greatest impact. The Urban Child Institute's hope is that the Data Book will create more advocates "for what works: Early Head Start, Memphis City Schools Pre-K, getting more people into effective parenting classes, and providing more home visitation programs," said Ms. Joyce.
The Data Book provides the facts about the crucial importance of brain development between birth and three years of age. "Genes provide a blueprint for the brain, but environment and experience ultimately construct it," said Ms. Joyce. "Early brain development is the pivotal time for laying a foundation for success later in life."
The Urban Child Institute is non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being and health of children from conception to three years old in Memphis and Shelby County. Organizationally, we are a data-driven, result-oriented coalition of community researchers, strategists, and practitioners who share a common vision of turning research into actionable knowledge. For more information, contact Katy Spurlock at 901.385.4233.