Guest column: Report tells story about our region’s children | AspenTimes.com

Guest column: Report tells story about our region’s children

Tamara Tormohlen
Guest column

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

To introduce the 2015 Kids Count in Colorado report on the state of Colorado's children, Chris Watney, CEO of the Colorado Children's Campaign, uses the metaphor of the electrical grid.

She imagines all the various systems that support kids — family, community, schools, hospitals, child care centers, etc. — as a grid that "powers the potential of children." In some cities and towns, the grid is a seamless, functioning network, but in others the flow of power is weak or spotty. Perhaps child care is too expensive for families to afford. In some cities, crime plagues certain neighborhoods and people live in constant fear. Elsewhere, families have little or no access to healthy food.

This uneven distribution of resources across the state leaves some children with fewer opportunities than others, and the Kids Count report tries to spotlight these service gaps and potential pitfalls. Sometimes the disparities have an urban-rural flavor; other times they show up in different neighborhoods of a single town. The idea behind the report is to urge state legislators to create policies that give every Colorado kid a fair chance.

As Watney says, "Good public policies that are well-implemented ensure services and supports are fairly distributed across all communities."

In November, representatives from the Children's Campaign will be in the Roaring Fork Valley to present some of their local findings. Touring the state and explaining trends and data to local audiences is an annual event for the organization. Last week, the group was in Montrose, Telluride and Ouray.

"We're really trying to generate awareness of the issues that impact so many kids and communities across the state," said Research Director Sarah Hughes. "When local leaders are making decisions that affect kids, we want to make sure they're doing so with the right information."

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As you might expect, there is good news and bad news to report about trends in the Roaring Fork Valley. For example, Hughes said, high school graduation rates in both Pitkin and Garfield counties are above state averages: 99 percent in Pitkin and 81 percent in Garfield. When the vast majority of students are graduating from high school on time, it means that many elements of that child-support "grid" are functioning in a healthy, coordinated fashion.

On the other hand, Hughes said, there are some unnerving numbers in the Kids Count report. Pitkin County's child-poverty rate went from 5 percent in 2007 to 9 percent in 2013. Garfield County's rose from 10 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2013.

"This is an indication that there are still many kids and families that haven't benefited from the economic recovery," Hughes said. "Often our rural counties kind of get left behind."

Another theme that's apparent in many of the Pitkin and Garfield numbers is the gnawing economic and demographic disparity between the upper and lower Roaring Fork Valley. It's an accepted fact of local life that the workers live downvalley in lower-cost housing and commute long distances to the economic engine of Aspen, but to Hughes it's another sign that the "grid" doesn't serve everyone equally.

In Colorado, world-famous resorts and second homes often coexist with poor communities. Routt County, home of Steamboat Springs, and its neighbor Moffat County are similar to Pitkin and Garfield counties in this respect, Hughes noted.

The full Kids Count in Colorado report and individual county data pages are available at http://www.coloradokids.org.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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