Some Sobering Numbers
The number of mothers receiving timely pre-natal care in Delaware has steadily decreased from 85% in the 2000-2004 window to 73% in 2012-2016. Only 58.7% of Hispanic mothers receive prenatal care.
Delaware’s infant mortality rate remains substantially higher than the national average. Infant mortality rates for African-American infants are over double those of white infants. Infant mortality among infants whose mothers receive health insurance through Medicaid is 1/3 higher than among infants who are covered by private insurance. Infant mortality among infants whose mothers have a high school education or less is almost double infant mortality among infants whose mothers have had one or more years of college.
Just over 50% of Delaware students entering kindergarten are assessed as kindergarten-ready in cognitive and language areas, and fewer than 50% are assessed as kindergarten-ready in mathematics.
Enormous disparities in student performance among students of different income brackets exist in Delaware. In 2016-2017, 63% of Delaware’s third grade students above the poverty line were proficient in reading, versus only 37% of those third graders living below the poverty line.
Almost 80% of the youth released from a juvenile detention facility in Delaware committed a new criminal offense within 18 months of release. A quarter of the youth committed new felony offenses within twelve months of release.
A Few First Steps
Action for Delaware’s Children is focusing at the outset on modest expansions in three existing state programs that evidence shows us can have a real impact on the lives of at-risk children:
1. The Nurse Family Partnership program, a state program that sends registered nurses to the homes of first-time mothers living in poverty to ensure that their babies get off to a good start.
2. The state’s competitive grant program for Outside School Time programs, with a specific focus on increasing funds available to schools with high populations of students living in poverty.
3. Supplementing the state’s re-entry services for juveniles leaving juvenile correctional facilities, to include cognitive behavioral therapy and vocational training services.
NURSE FAMILY PARTNERSHIP
The Nurse Family Partnership home visitation program is a highly successful, national model program that has nurses with manageable caseloads visit the homes of first-time mothers living in poverty. The visits begin when the mothers are early in the pregnancy, and continue until their children are two years old. Delaware has had a Nurse Family Partnership program for some time, but only a small fraction of the state’s first-time mothers under the poverty line participate in the program.
Because the Nurse Family Partnership is a national model program that has been in place around the country for decades, there is strong empirical evidence showing its outcomes for children and parents who participate. Among the documented results from Nurse Family Partnership programs around the country are a 48% reduction in incidents of child abuse and neglect, a 50% reduction in language delays for children at 21 months of age, a 67% reduction in language reception deficiencies at age 6, and a 59% reduction in child arrests at age 15. (more info from the Nurse Family Partnership here) Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn referred to the program as “stunningly effective” in a 2014 New York Times article on anti-poverty programs.
Action for Delaware’s Children seeks to expand the state’s support for this effective home visitation program, so that more of Delaware’s at-risk children can receive the proven benefits that it brings.
EXTENDING THE SCHOOL DAY AND SCHOOL YEAR FOR LOW INCOME CHILDREN
Delaware should provide more educational and support services for its low income students before and after the school day, and during the summer months. Providing at risk children with a safe, supportive environment that augments their regular school schedule is a good use of state funds that will show real benefits in the lives of the state’s at risk children.
Recent comprehensive studies have documented that well-designed “outside school time” programs, which provide services for students before school, after school, and in the summer months, have a demonstrable impact on student performance and achievement. Outside school time funds in Delaware have never met demands, and unfortunately outside school time funding was significantly reduced in Delaware (along with most other discretionary state expenses) during the fiscal crisis that followed the stock market crash of 2009. Approximately $10.8 million in “extra time funds” were eliminated from the state’s public education budget, and the Delaware Department of Education estimates that at least 80% of those funds (i.e. over $8 million per year) came from OST programs.
Current state funding for after-school programs in Delaware comes primarily from three programs: the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which has awarded $500,000 to $2 million per year; a $2.25 million/year competitive grant program overseen by DSCYF; and slightly more than $2 million in the annual grant-in-aid bill. There are approximately 43,774 low income students attending public school in Delaware statewide. Thus, even assuming that every dollar in Delaware OST funds went to low income students, the state’s expenditure per month on OST programs for low income students is approximately $11.90 per month.
The State of Delaware recently made available approximately $20 million per year in “Opportunity Grant” funds to Delaware public schools, distributed roughly according to the number of low-income and English as a Second Language students in each school district. Those funds can be used for Outside School Time programs. However, with the exception of the Colonial School District, it does not appear that a significant amount of these funds are being used by the largest recipients for outside school time programs.
In short, low income students in Delaware would benefit from an increase in OST services. We propose that the state achieve this goal by increasing the competitive grant funds that are available through DSC&F’s competitive grant program, and that the increase in funds be specifically for programs that are targeted at schools with high populations of low income students.
IMPROVING RE-ENTRY SERVICES FOR JUVENILES LEAVING CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES
Although the population of Delaware’s juvenile correctional facilities has dropped significantly since 2014, the rate of recidivism remains stubbornly high. Almost 80% of the youth released from a juvenile detention facility in Delaware committed a new criminal offense within 18 months of release. A quarter of the youth committed new felony offenses within twelve months of release. This is disappointing but not entirely surprising. Many of these young people are returning to the same homes, neighborhoods, and acquaintances that they had just before they committed offenses serious enough to receive a sentence to a detention facility.
Delaware provides focused mentoring for students released from its secure correctional facilities through the Delaware Youth Advocate Program. However, national studies have suggested that additional benefits can accrue to juveniles leaving correctional facilities from cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, a preliminary study just released by the University of Chicago crime lab showed a 38% reduction in violent offenses over an 18 month period among juveniles who participated in a trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy program that accompanied Chicago’s Youth Advocate Program.
In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, Delaware Youth Advocate Program mentors have told their supervisors that the largest unmet need among the juvenile offenders they oversee is vocational training.
We propose that the state make competitive grant funds available to complement its existing Youth Advocate Program in order to provide cognitive behavioral services and vocational training to youth being released from juvenile correctional institutions.