Children at Risk releases 'Growing Up in Houston' highlighting key issues impacting local children

Children at Risk is highlighting the key issues affecting the lives of Houston children in a new report.

President and CEO Dr. Bob Sanborn along with health and education experts discussed the findings in the bi-annual publication Growing Up In Houston on Tuesday.

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"I think what's interesting as we look purely at the data, and we take feeling out of it, is that we're not doing so well when it comes to our kids. And so that's what Growing Up In Houston, sort of the theme this year, is that we're just not doing as well as we should be doing by our children in the state of Texas and certainly in the city of Houston," Sanborn said.

According to Sanborn, of the close to 2 million children in the Greater Houston area, about 70% qualify for free or reduced lunch.

"While sometimes we look at that federal poverty rate of 27% in our state, and we say well, that's how many poor kids we have, the reality is we have many more families than that that are struggling to make ends meet," Sanborn said. "And it's real appropriate that we look at those numbers as we looked at the status of our children, because one of the key things that you often look at as researchers to see how kids are doing is what is the income level of their family, where do they stand economically. And what we're finding is that it's dire for 70% of the children."

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One of the aspects the report examines is diversity and immigration in the area.

"We also can see that over 75% of our children in the Greater Houston area are children of color. And when we look at a state that doesn't want to talk about diversity, we look at our own city and we understand that we're talking about the majority of our kids," Sanborn says. "Moreover, when we look at immigration in our city, over half of the kids in our city are immigrants or children of immigrants, with at least one parent who was born outside of this country."

According to the report, children with at least one parent who was born outside of the country make up more than half of the children living in extreme poverty – defined as income more than two times below the poverty rate.

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The report also examined health care coverage for children in Harris County. According to the report, more than 633,000 county children are enrolled in Medicaid and nearly 44,000 are enrolled in CHIP. In 2021, about 15% of Harris County children were uninsured, compared to 11% of Texas children, the report shows.

Another issue is mental health among children. Dr. Jamie Freeny, Director for Center for School Behavioral Health with Mental Health America of Greater Houston, says rates of anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, suicidal behavior, and substance use among youth in the greater Houston area have risen.

"The number of children and adolescents presenting in emergency rooms with mental health crisis has increased roughly from 50 a month to 400 a month," Dr. Freeny says.

According to Dr. Freeny, factors contributing to a rise in mental illness in young people include "natural disasters, abuse, neglect, safety at home, safety at school, safety during out of school times when they're in the community, social media, cyberbullying, racial and ethnic discrimination, and the many barriers that make it difficult to access mental and behavioral health services."

"We must continue to advocate for policies and practices in all of these areas that reduce risk factors and increase protective factors so that our children can develop into mentally healthy adults," Dr. Freeny says.

Another issue the report examines is schools and education. According to the report, there were 72 Gold Ribbon Schools in the Houston area in 2022, down from 82, the year before. Gold Ribbon Schools, chosen by Children at Risk, must be made up of more than 75% of low-income students and receive an A or B in the organization’s annual school rankings. According to the report, Houston ISD had 24 Gold Ribbon Schools, up from 17 in 2019.

The lengthy report delves deeper into each of these issues. To see the full report, click here.