About 22 percent of children in the United States live below the federal poverty line, and that percentage skyrockets to between 40 percent and 70 percent among minority groups living in rural communities. ChildFund works in Mississippi and Texas, where we partner with local organizations to address specific needs of children in vulnerable situations. We recently concluded work in Oklahoma and South Dakota.
Our programs in the U.S. are directed toward parent and community engagement and empowerment, with a focus on youth agency. We also recognize the potential in creating positive change for American children through restoring cultural values and traditions, as well as emphasizing literacy, education and child protection.
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Ages 0 - 5: Healthy and Secure
ChildFund’s literacy work starts early through the Just Read! program. We encourage parents and other caregivers to read to their children beginning in infancy and create positive learning environments at home — efforts that have led to change within families. Many parents have learned that they have important roles in nurturing a culture of reading for their children. ChildFund also works with national literacy groups to find new ways of engaging with parents and children.
Another key focus is child protection, which affects children of all ages. The youngest need safe homes and neighborhoods, difficult goals to achieve in communities where domestic abuse, gang violence and drug addiction are rampant. We conducted a child protection assessment in Jackson, Mississippi, to determine effective avenues to change unhealthy factors and achieve social change that helps children grow up safe and secure.
Ages 6 - 14: Educated and Confident
ChildFund’s Just Read! program continues its work with school-aged children and their parents by providing access to more books, particularly those that reflect the children’s own races and ethnicities. In South Dakota, many children read about the lives of two American Indian authors who struggled to find their places in the world, and in Mississippi and Texas, children read about issues facing African Americans and Latinos, giving them an opportunity to learn more about their communities’ heritage and take pride in it. To create excitement around books, we have started reading clubs and festivals, which take on themes like Dr. Seuss’ birthday and Create Your Own Fairy Tale. Through book distributions, children were able to choose books of their liking and then take them home to keep, a first for many of them.
Ages 15 – 24: Skilled and Involved
Our focus on literacy continues into middle and high schools, while also emphasizing teens’ ability to be role models to younger children. Middle school students in Mississippi attended Book Buddy workshops and then read with first-graders, and high school students in Oklahoma read to and talked about bullying, drugs and other important topics with younger children. ChildFund’s programs for youth encourage them to actively participate in their communities, schools and families, often advocating for children’s rights and child protection. Through action, youth become the leaders their communities need.
Civic Engagement and Child Protection
In the communities where we work in Jackson, Mississippi, violence is everywhere: in homes, in schools, in the streets. ChildFund is focused on child protection by reducing children’s vulnerability to violence. One part of this work is educating families, and another part is helping children become more resilient and able to make good decisions when something frightening happens.
In 2015, we completed an assessment in Jackson identifying problems specific to disadvantaged communities: large-scale domestic violence, child abuse and neglect; community violence; school violence and abuse. Causes include drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, parental absence, mental health problems, a culture of secrecy about violence, overwhelmed teachers and general institutional failure.
With our partner Operation Shoestring, we came up with a set of interventions that we believe will achieve social change and impact. They include: youth civic engagement and leadership; family strengthening programs; community mobilization; creating a support network of children, family members and other stakeholders.
A separate but dire child protection issue is taking place in the Rio Grande Valley, in southern Texas. The surge of unaccompanied children and teens at the border, arriving sick and dehydrated from Central American countries, caused humanitarian crises in 2014 and 2015. We’ve worked to give these children psychosocial support and other resources, as well as raising awareness of the crisis with local, national and international groups, and providing child protection training to our Texas staff and local partners.