Coös Coalition for Young Children & Families touted in NHCF newsletter

January 08, 2014
CONCORD — Richard "Dick" Ober, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation (NHCF), points out in the non-profit organization's latest newsletter that there are a rising number of children across the state who are falling into poverty at a faster rate than any other state in the nation.

Ober lists some of this thorny issue's complexities and then concludes that a very good place to start addressing the problem is "with smart investments in education, family supports, and health care for the littlest kids."

Ober touts the work that NHCF is doing in the North Country, thanks to its Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund that has been the principal funder of the Coös County Coalition for Young Children and Families. Led by program director Kirsten Scobie of Lancaster, the Fund is guided by the 11-member Neil and Louise Tillotson Advisory Committee, whose membership includes longtime Dixville resident Steve Barba of Concord, Pam Laflamme of Gorham, Lisa Perras of Groveton, and Jim Tibbetts and Rick Tillotson, both of Colebrook.

"Since 2009, this alliance of nonprofits, health care agencies and educational institutions has united under a common vision: better health and education outcomes for every child in Coös County.

"With Tillotson funding of $5 million in the past five years, the Coalition and partners are getting real results," Ober says. "Twice as many licensed teachers are working in local child care centers, six times more programs are using evidence-based interventions, and 253 young children have been screened to assess individual developmental needs. That's up from just 15 in 2009 and represents 14 percent of all kids in Coös County. The goal is 100 percent."

Inspired by the North Country's success, Ober explains that NHCF is taking a three-pronged approach in other regions within the state: convening private funders, learning from experts, and piloting new ideas.

Detailing his alarm at the growing number of Granite State youngsters growing up impoverished, Ober points out: "In 2011, we had the lowest childhood poverty rate in the United States. (Defined as annual income of less than $23,283 for a family of four. Up to $46,500 is considered low income; nearly a third of N. H. children meet that definition.)

"The number has since jumped an appalling 30 percent, putting us higher than 15 other states.

"Nearly one in five young people is trying to survive under the poverty line, which means we are failing 11,000 more kids than we were two years ago. And we've allowed this to happen during a period when the U. S. average has been nearly stable. The situation is especially bad for children under five. It will only get worse if we don't break the cycle."

Ober also provides the rationale behind NHCF's growing emphasis on early childhood education. "Without access to quality early learning and care, a child can get so far behind by kindergarten that it is very hard to catch up," he explains. "By third grade, it may be impossible. Her lifetime earnings and chance for self-sufficiency go down, and her chance of poor health and raising the next generation in poverty go up. Way up.

"Some argue this is only the parents' problem, that we have no common obligation to help a three-year-old from drowning in economic conditions he did not create. Putting aside the dubious moral side of this, it is also fiscally irresponsible.

"In a state with a rapidly aging population and near zero net migration, every child must succeed. It is an economic as well as social imperative.

"A dollar invested in early childhood development produces an annual return to the economy of seven to 10 percent, or a total of $4 to $17. The earlier the investment (birth to age three), the greater the return. That's because young kids who participate in good programs need less special education and social services, are a third more likely to graduate high school, and twice as likely to attend college. That means they will have viable incomes, pay taxes and vote.

"A growing body of evidence shows that success requires a comprehensive and integrated strategy across disciplines, blending early learning with other effective health and related services.

"So," he concludes, "that's what we are doing."

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