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Florida’s youngest parents face mounting challenges, report states

October 8, 2018
Sarasota Herald

Parents who are between the age of 18 to 24 are twice as likely to live in low-income households and face significant education and career challenges, according to a newly released report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Although fewer teenagers are having babies, young parents still face many of the same challenges as earlier teen parents, according to a new study released recently by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The foundation’s report, “Opening Doors for Young Parents,” looks at the challengesconfronting parents ages 18 to 24. The report identified low median income, disrupted education and expensive childcare as some of the biggest difficulties for young parents.

“If we don’t support young people when they become parents, we are cheating two generations out of having a positive future,” Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy said. “We can help young adult parents develop the skills they need to raise their children, contribute to their communities and drive our national economy forward.”

In Florida, 78 percent of children of young parents live in low-income families, which is tied with Washington, D.C., for the fourth-highest rate nationally. Maine and Georgia topped the list, with 85 percent of children of young parents living in poverty. Vermont had the lowest percentage at 53 percent. The national median income for a family of three with young parents is $23,000 annually.

Kirsten Russell, the director of community investment for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, said such statistics must compel a community to action.

“The data is telling us we all need to care about it,” Russell said.

The report found that education makes the greatest long-term impact on young parents‘ earning potential. Single mothers with associate degrees will make an average of $152,927 more over their lifetime than single mothers with just a high school diploma, and earning a bachelor’s degree yielded, on average, $296,044 more over a lifetime. In Florida, only 16 percent of parents 18 to 24 hold an associate degree or higher.

The report pointed to the importance of young fathers being involved in their children‘s lives and encourages policy makers to include fathers as they design social programs aimed at helping young parents.

Programs targeting this demographic can be particularly effective because both the children and their parents are in the midst of a developmental stage when their brain is more malleable. From birth to age 3, children‘s brains are growing rapidly, learning about language and relationships. Young adults 18 to 24 are in a similar but less intense period of cognitive growth, learning to navigate the workplace and care for their children, the report states.

Michelle Kapreilian, CEO of Forty Carrots Family Center in Sarasota, said young parents seeking parenting help often end up finding a network of other young parentswho are in a similar situation, and that can be a huge help.

“When you are young and have a baby and your friends are out there living their life unencumbered, it is a lonely place to be,” Kapreilian said.

The report also calls for greater state investment in early child care. Florida’sreimbursement rate to child care providers who give care to low-income families has remained flat for years. And although Florida leads the nation when it comes to the percentage of children enrolled in the state’s Voluntary PreKindergarten program, the state spends less per child than nearly every other state, according to an analysis released earlier this year by the National Institute for Early Education Research.