A new report from KIDS COUNT®, a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation focused on child well-being, shows how the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on Oklahoma’s children and families. The report — entitled “Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and The Urgent Need to Respond” — also highlights the outsized impact of the pandemic on our state’s children and families of color.
Many Oklahoma families have directly dealt with the illness itself; far more, however, have found themselves facing the pandemic’s economic and emotional toll from lost wages, lack of child care, and school closures. Too many Oklahoma families are asking themselves regularly: Will my family have enough food to eat? Will I be able to pay our rent on time? How will I afford medical treatment if we get sick?
Using data from a U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, the KIDS COUNT® policy report highlights four key areas or pain points — health, mental health, hunger, and housing instability — that significantly impact child well-being.
Using publicly available data, the latest report found:
- Forty percent of Oklahoma adults living in households with children reported having difficulty paying for usual household expenses. Many of these families are also grappling with housing insecurity.
- In October, nearly one in three households with children reported they are very or extremely likely to leave their home due to eviction or foreclosure in the next two months. The economic toll of the pandemic is also making it difficult for many families to provide adequate food for their children.
- More than one in eight Oklahoma families sometimes or often do not have enough food to eat during the current public health crisis.
- Oklahoma ranked in the top three states where families with children lacked health insurance. Just over one in six households do not have health insurance, which means that many families struggle to provide their children adequate medical care when they become ill.
“Every child in Oklahoma deserves to have their basic needs met, yet the latest KIDS COUNT® report clearly shows Oklahoma families are facing unimaginable choices as they care for their loved ones,” said Ahniwake Rose, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, which has served as the state’s KIDS COUNT® affiliate since 2018. “More than just a snapshot of the devastation, this data is vital for our elected officials and policy makers to make smart, informed decisions for policy solutions to meaningfully address the underlying issues that cause our state’s miserable child well-being statistics.”
Rebecca Fine, who serves as OK Policy’s KIDS COUNT® Coordinator and Education Analyst, said the pandemic has magnified racial inequalities that have long existed as a result of historical and present day discriminatory practices.
For example, she noted that census data indicates that some non-white families — those who identify as Latinx, two or more races, or other — lack health insurance at about twice the rate of white families. Children of color are also more likely to face housing insecurity. Oklahoma Black and Latinx families were two times as likely to report that they had little to no confidence in paying their next rent or mortgage payment than white families.
“In looking at the latest data, we can see that many children and families of color find themselves in an even more precarious position than they were before the pandemic struck,” Fine said. “As a result, Oklahoma’s communities of color lack many key resources needed to weather this public health emergency.”
To meet the needs of Oklahoma children, OK Policy is calling for a number of policy initiatives that can help improve child well-being in the state, including:
- Increasing revenue and prioritizing resources for essential services like education, health care, and social services,
- Expanding Medicaid immediately to speed the health and economic benefits it brings to our state;
- Providing schools funding to hire enough school counselors and mental health professionals to meet the recommended ratio of 250 to 1;
- Restoring refundability of Oklahoma’s earned income tax credit (EITC) for working families;
- Immediately addressing the COVID emergency in Oklahoma prisons along with continued criminal justice reforms to break the cycle of incarceration, court debt, and rearrest;
- Transitioning all juvenile justice status hearings from in-person to virtual, and granting medical and compassionate release programs to all low-level juvenile offenders;
- Suspending juvenile court fines and fees as well as detention for technical violations through the duration of the public health crisis;
- Providing tenants with legal help and representation if they should have to navigate the eviction process; and
- Increasing the time between eviction notices and hearings to give families sufficient time to find help and respond to an eviction notice.
To learn more about OK Policy’s child wellness work as part of the KIDS COUNT® network, visit okpolicy.org/kidscount. To learn more about the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® national work, visit www.aecf.org/kidscount.