Fort Worth

Tarrant County’s most vulnerable children highlighted in new report

Five-year-old Mia is clear about her future plans.

“When I grow up, I want to be a police officer and help people,” she said with a grin.

Her classmate Matthew also has ambitions: He wants to be a firefighter.

“I put the water out,” the 5-year-old said, giving his teacher a high-five.

The preschoolers explored their future aspirations as part of lessons at the Gragg Child Development Center in Fort Worth, which offers early childhood education programs to youngsters from low-income families.

Helping more children reach their life goals is the aim of a new report that details the conditions facing Tarrant County’s more than 500,000 children. Growing Up in North Texas 2016: A Community Assessment for Tarrant County drills deep into the demographics of young people who live in the county.

“No child’s ZIP code should define their future,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who was among community leaders and child advocates who attended a panel discussion that addressed issues highlighted in the report. The discussion took place at the City Club in downtown Fort Worth.

The report was produced by the North Texas Community Foundation in partnership with Children at Risk and Child Care Associates and also serves to show philanthropists programs that work, said Nancy Jones, president/CEO of the foundation.

The top concerns identified in the report are family economic stability, third-grade literacy rates, infant mortality and child abuse.

“We recognize that the data is difficult to hear because of some of the very startling statistics,” Jones said. “We also recognize that without good information, we can’t proceed.”

Children growing up in Fort Worth and Tarrant County face several challenges. The report will help the community better address concerns, including child abuse, which continues to be an area where local leaders want to improve.

Tarrant County dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 statewide in the number of confirmed child abuse cases from 2014 to 2015, but the number of abuse cases grew to 6,213, from 6,097, and the number of child fatalities increased to 16, from 11, according to a recent report from Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Poverty is a barrier to student success and achieving a higher education, according to the report.

It revealed that while the child poverty rate in Tarrant County is lower than other comparable counties, a disproportionate number of poor children are black or Hispanic. Also, about 25,785 children through age 5 who live in poverty are not served by an early education program.

Early Head Start and Head Start programs help bridge gaps, said experts. As children are lifted academically, parents can also work to emerge from poverty.

Marcela Maldonado, a mother of two children, said her children, ages 6 and 4, are school-ready because they have been in early education programs since birth. She said she also learned how to be a better parent and advocate for her children. She now works at the Gragg Child Development Center as a teacher.

At Gragg, the children aren’t the only ones making plans. Maldonado said she will soon start classes at Tarrant County College. Her ambition?

“I want to be a social worker,” she said.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

The report, Growing Up in North Texas 2016: A Community Assessment for Tarrant County, can be accessed online at: http://www.northtexascf.org/

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