The strain of poverty and poor health makes it more difficult for many youngsters in Louisiana to succeed in school. Roughly 28 percent of children statewide are living in poverty. The percentage is even higher in New Orleans, where the child poverty rate is 44 percent, according to the Data Center. Although Louisiana has increased the number of children covered by Medicaid, there are still gaps in health care statewide and thousands of children are vulnerable.
Louisiana also lags behind other states in academic achievement. Strong schools are essential to changing that, of course. But it also is important to make sure that children aren’t dragged down by poor health, hunger or other hardships.
In an effort to do that, the state is adopting the holistic model developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Legislature last year charged the Department of Health and Hospitals, Department of Education, United Way of Southeast Louisiana, the New Orleans-based Childhood and Family Learning Foundation and others with developing a plan to implement the CDC’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child program statewide.
That effort is still in the planning stage, but it got a big boost this week with a generous $250,000 donation from an anonymous donor to United Way. The money will help launch the health initiative in schools across the state, United Way president and CEO Michael Williamson said.
“Decades of research shows healthier children are better students — more able to succeed in school and in life,” the United Way said in a press release about the donation. The donation will help pay for a plan to identify health issues that affect students and coordinate care for them.
When children are dealing with health problems, they are more likely to fall behind — and perhaps more likely to drop out of school. That limits their ability to get a decent-paying job and could keep them mired in poverty.
“Given that a healthy child makes a better learner, the goal is to reduce the number of school-aged children who experience health barriers to learning and establish programs aimed at evaluating and addressing the health status and need of each child,” Mr. Williamson said.
The “whole child” model focuses on health education, nutrition, wellness, school climate, health services, counseling and social services, community involvement, family engagement and physical education, among other areas.
United Way and the Childhood and Family Learning Foundation are already working together on coordinated health care at a dozen schools in New Orleans. The plan now is to expand those efforts statewide.
Phyllis Landrieu, co-founder, president and CEO of the family learning foundation, said the effort could make a major difference in children’s lives. “A consistent and comprehensive statewide process for preventive health screenings every year for all students in all schools could assure reaching all children in need,” she said.
Improving the health of children will not only help them succeed in school now, but should improve their opportunities in the long run.
Statewide, 1-in-3 married-parent families and 4-in-5 single-mother families don’t make enough money to be economically secure, according to a January 2015 study by the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University.
Researchers looked at cost of living data to calculate the amount the average household needs to pay for essentials and live a “modest but dignified” lifestyle.
According to the study, the average income needed by a single parent in New Orleans with one child is $51,264. That figure rises with more children in a home.
Strengthening students’ ability to learn could allow those children to eventually compete for better-paying jobs — and give their families more financial security.