Nevada doesn’t make it easy for kids.
It sits at number one in the country for youth homelessness. It’s the sixth-worst state for uninsured children. More than 100 kids die otherwise preventable deaths every year. And in 2018, the youth suicide rate nearly doubled.
That’s a lot of data. And you know who else crunches the numbers on behalf of the state’s kids? UNLV’s Nevada Institute for Children's Research and Policy.
Its goal is to zero in on children’s health issues, and present its research to policymakers and community groups in the hopes of improving the lives of families in Nevada. It looks at everything from home life and education to health and safety.
Dr. Amanda Haboush-Deloye is the interim executive director at the institute. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that because all of those issues are interconnected the institute works to understand all of them.
“It’s not like there’s one key solution or if we solve one problem that it’s going to tackle a whole array of issues," he said, "That’s one of the reasons our institute actually focuses on many different issues.”
Haboush-Deloye said one solution they know that helps is early access to education because that often opens access to resources. She said educating parents and their children at an early age can connect families in need with housing, food, mental health services and health care.
The state recently expanded those early education opportunities with expanded preschool and free, all-day kindergarten around the state.
But Haboush-Deloye pointed out that although it was a lot of money the need really outstrips the investment.
"When you look at the number of kids that serves because education is expensive, it may not look like its that much of an increase of kids," she said, "And the larger investment you make so you can serve the whole community around you, especially whole communities that are more at risk that are more vulnerable. So, those that are high in poverty and have access to less resources, that's when you're going to start to see a fuller community change."
Haboush-Deloye said Nevada has been neglecting families for a while and it will take a large investment from the state to see a large improvement.
“When you’re investing in kids and families, you’re investing in the whole community and the health and wealth of that community and the prosperity of the state coming in the future,” she said.
Some of that investment could address problems like youth homelessness, food insecurity and poverty. It could also be used to address a growing problem around the country: affordable housing.
Erika Marquez is a senior research associate at the institute. She said housing is a major issue when it comes to a child's health.
“Having a roof over our heads is absolutely key. It’s key for our children. It’s key for our families but what is the quality of that housing look like,” she said.
Marquez noted that poor quality housing can make things worse for children. For example, having something like an infestation of insects or rodents in a home can exacerbate asthma. If a child suffers from a chronic health condition like asthma, it can interfere with their schooling.
"It is really important for us to develop ways in which we can have not only just housing for our children but also have quality housing," she said.
Another safety issue that the institute has been working on is lead poisoning. While Southern Nevada doesn't have the same number of older homes as communities on the East Coast or Midwest. There are older homes with lead paint.
Marquez said lead poisoning can have a lasting effect on IQ and behavior even in small doses.
Besides housing and lead poisoning, the institute takes an annual snapshot of the health of kids entering kindergarten. They survey their general health, obesity levels, eating habits and any other factor that would impact their health.
That information is then directed to state policymakers so they have a good idea of how our children are doing healthwise.
Despite the work of the institute and organizations working directly to impact the lives of children in the community, Nevada tends "to be at the bottom of the list in most categories," Haboush-Deloye said.
“There is definitely more that we can do," she said, "I definitely don’t think it’s a priority, as high as a priority as it should be but we, as a community, are making improvements but when you’re already at the bottom and everybody in the country is making improvements it’s really hard to move up the list.”
Saturday, November 9
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Springs Preserve - 333 S. Valley View Blvd.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Mobile Crisis Response Team - Hotline: South: 702-486-7865 or North: 775-688-1670
Crisis Call Center - Text Line - Text - "Listen" to 839863
De Prevencion del Suicido - 1-888-628-9454
Dr. Amanda Haboush-Deloye, Interim Executive Director, UNLV Nevada Institute for Children's Research and Policy; Dr. Erika Marquez, Senior Research Associate, UNLV Nevada Institute for Children's Research and Policy
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