Just Starting Out and Already Behind: Newark Babies Face Harmful Poverty, Risks

February 6, 2013

Contact: Nancy Parello, Communications Director, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, (973) 643-3876, (908) 399-6031 (c), nparello@acnj.org

At the very time of life when strong families, healthy starts and positive learning environments are most important, Newark’s youngest children face daunting odds that can damage their development, according to Newark Kids Count 2012-13, released today.

Most of these children will be born into poverty, which is especially harmful during a child’s first years. Young children who live in poverty and who are exposed to other risk factors are most likely to fail in school and experience other negative outcomes, research shows.

“It is urgently important that we respond to the needs of our youngest children in a coordinated, comprehensive way,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which released the annual report on child well-being in New Jersey’s largest city. “What happens in a child’s first five years influences the rest of his life.”

“A public focus on young children has long been lacking, even as research consistently documents the incredible importance of those first years,” Zalkind said. “It is time that we make a concerted effort to identify and meet the special needs of infants and toddlers living in Newark.”

Newark Kids Count Key findings:

  • A startling 76 percent of Newark children, birth to five years, were living in low-income families in 2011.
  • Seventy-one percent of Newark births in 2009 were to unmarried women, compared to 36 percent statewide.
  • About 70 percent of Newark children are born to mothers with a high school education or less.
  • In 2009, 40 percent of Newark expectant mothers received late or no prenatal care and just 15 percent were breastfeeding when they left the hospital after giving birth.
  • Contrary to statewide trends, the number of Newark children, five and under, without health coverage rose 13 percent from 2009 to 2011. Very young children represented 36 percent of all uninsured children in Newark in 2011.
  • Young children are more likely to be victims of abuse and neglect, with 25 percent of all children under the supervision of the state’s child protection system three years or younger.

There were a few bright spots on the horizon for these young children. Newark children are now far less likely to be lead-poisoned – a result of sustained efforts at both the state and local levels to address this childhood health hazard. Newark’s 3- and 4-year-olds are also more likely to attend a high-quality preschool, thanks to state funding that supports this early start to education.

A Call to Action Advocates for Children of New Jersey called on city leaders, the early care and education community, business leaders and foundations to come together to form a strategic, comprehensive response that addresses key areas, including poverty, health, safety and early care and education.

“If we come together with a single purpose to address these issues and give all Newark children the right start, we can make a difference for these children, their families and the city as a whole,” Zalkind said.

This response must include engaging parents early on and assisting them in meeting the daunting challenges of raising children, while struggling with poverty, crime and other urban stresses. It must also include improving the quality of child care and addressing  the poverty and health issues that have long plagued Newark children, Zalkind said.

“If we can get all children off to the right start, they are more likely to develop into healthy, productive adults,” Zalkind noted. “This is good for children – and it benefits taxpayers, who will spend less on special education, welfare and crime, while enjoying increased tax revenues as more children contribute to their communities.”

“In fact, there is growing recognition that early childhood education is an effective form of economic development,” Zalkind added. “When you address these challenges in a child’s first years, the later outcomes are much more positive — for children, for families, for communities and for taxpayers.”

Read the full report.