Local Children's Advocacy Group Addresses Problems in Houston

Experts in children's issues gathered recently to envision the future and therefore begin to address potential problems that will face children in Houston. The group discussed and forecast trends that they believe should addressed now to improve the quality of life for children. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports.

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The round table called "The Future of Our Children" took place at Children at Risk, a local children's advocacy group. The round table identified five key trends, each as important as the others. First, growth and influence of Latino and immigrant communities and special needs of immigrant children. Children at Risk's President and CEO Robert Sanborn says that already Latino children are a majority in Houston schools and that trend will only increase and linguistics' and cultural diversity will be a challenge. For example, he says.

"What's going to happen if we have a sort of growing Latino pride where people want more Latino studies in the schools? Will there be conflicts between Latinos and African Americans, Latinos and whites, in the schools. Just this overall trend is worth paying attention to. It's going to make a difference in schools, it's going to make a difference in Houston and we are probably on cutting edge of that."

Another trend is the mounting evidence of inequality in public education. Dr. Sanborn says there are very good schools but far too many bad schools that lead to high dropout rates.

"And what's happening within those bad schools and with those dropout rates, is you're sort of creating an underclass"

Two of the trends have to do with children's health. One is the effect of pollution on children. Their health can be altered in especially harmful ways and lead to serious lifelong illnesses, and also development and cognitive impairment. The other health oriented trend is one the spans American--childhood obesity. Dr. Sanborn says Houston is especially affected by this problem.

"In matching with one of our other trends, the growth of Latino children in the area, we're finding that childhood obesity really occurs more frequently in the Latino population than within any other population."

He says schools are beginning to reduce junk foods and sugar available to students.

"But it's something that we're going to have to deal with on a much larger scale because we really feel this is a concern for kids, but more importantly as these kids grow up it creates a much higher cost on society."

And the last trend is the increasing use and dependence on technology. It has positive and negative implications, but overall the group believes that this is a trend that is more positive than negative. For example it was once thought there would be a "digital divide" between socio-economic groups, but that has not happened. But still the growth and use of technology will have an impact that is not fully known.

Children at Risk issues a biennial publication called Growing Up in Houston which tracks children's health, safety, education and economic conditions. For more information you'll find a link at kuhf.org.

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