What does opportunity look like for Iowa children (and we are doing the right things help them thrive)?

By Mary Nelle Trefz, HealthConnect Fellow, Health Policy Associate, Child and Family Policy Center

What does opportunity look like for Iowa children (and we are doing the right things help them thrive)?

Iowans think our state is a good place to raise children. But does the reality live up to our reputation? To help answer this question, the Child and Family Policy Center worked in consultation with other child health advocates to develop a Child Opportunity Scorecard—a set of ten indicators that capture the broad range of what it takes to set a child up for success. The Child Opportunity Scorecard includes the below ten indicators, grouped into 3 categories relating to the well-being of the child, her family, and her community:

  • Child
    • School success: measured by 4th grade reading proficiency
    • Access to health care: measured by children covered by health insurance
    • Early intervention: measured by children receiving developmental screening
  • Family
    • Engaged caregiver: measured by maternal depression
    • Assets for financial security: measured by home ownership
    • Economic opportunity: measured by unemployment
    • Community connections: measured by supportive neighborhoods
  • Community:
    • Overcoming challenges: measured by families showing resilience
    • Basic needs: measured by child poverty

Let’s dig into a few of these indicators to help us understand how they contribute to opportunities for Iowa’s children.

Starting with access to health care, which examines whether the child can get needed preventive care and treatment of illness and injury. Health insurance coverage is the key that opens the door to the health care system. We’ve made real progress in coverage—reaching a historic level of 97 percent of children in Iowa who are insured.

We’ve seen this progress because as a state we’ve made decisions based on the belief that providing health insurance coverage to children is a value of our state. Historically, Iowa’s state leaders have made policy-level and programmatic decisions to expand coverage for children and families in Iowa. For example, Iowa has the highest upper-income eligibility level (380 percent FPL) for pregnant women. In fact, Iowa policymakers have a history of bipartisan support for safety net programs (e.g. Medicaid expansion).

Another important measure is school success. Fourth grade reading proficiency can be used to assess whether the child is building the skills needed for a productive adulthood. Reading proficiently by mid-elementary school is an important predictor of future academic success, including high school graduation, and of economic stability in adulthood. Whether or not a child has reached fourth grade with functional academic skills is also a reflection of the experiences that child has had up to that point—starting well before kindergarten.

Finally, let’s examine our early intervention indicator which measures whether developmental concerns are caught early when they are most easily addressed. The first five years of a child’s life represent a critical window of opportunity to build healthier and more prosperous futures for Iowa’s kids. It’s when brain development is at its most malleable and flexible, the time to build strong foundations for cognitive, social, and emotional health. Regular developmental screenings can help identify concerns early and get children connected to interventions that can reduce the severity and scope of developmental delays. It also helps parents understand their child’s developmental milestones so they know what to expect and how to provide children what they need during various developmental stages.

Collectively, these indicators can provide a snapshot of how we are doing as a state to support the health and well-being of Iowa’s children. In examining these indicators, it is also important to remember to disaggregate the data (whenever possible) by race, ethnicity, geography, gender, etc. to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all the children in our state. The Child Opportunity Scorecard can help us identify where we are doing well as a state and where we have room to improve—providing us with a roadmap to help ensure that all children have the opportunity to grow and thrive.