A unique study released last week by the LSU/Tulane Early Childhood Policy and Data Center uses maps to show where certain risk factors that could impede early childhood development are most prevalent across the state.
LSU Public Policy Research Lab Director Kirby Goidel and Epidemiologist Lina Brou said their study found that 55 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have at least one high-risk factor that could impede childhood development such as high unemployment, high teen birth rate and high percentage of uninsured children. The nature of that risk was also found to differ from parish-to-parish.
Goidel said the initial step to addressing the needs of the children across Louisiana is to first understand the nature of the risk in each parish.
GOIDEL: And so if you have a parish that has significant poverty and that’s the principal problem, you’d want to think about different outcomes than if it is healthcare and health-related, and alternatively, if it’s education related. So, what we hope to do anyway with this is show the risk visually and then begin to think about are the interventions right because we also know the interventions can be helpful.
WESTERMAN: Speaking of showing this visually, I mean, just looking at the maps of the study one can see that the majority of the moderate-to-high risk parishes are in the northern part of the state. What do you think it is about those parishes that create an environment for so many risk factors?
BROU: If I’m not mistaken, I believe they’re slightly rural parishes there, under populated. And so that could be a big issue is getting the services out there and having access to these programs is probably one of the biggest problems, I think.
WESTERMAN: The study shows some of the parishes that have some of the high risk also provide a lot of services. The one that caught my eye was East Carroll parish. It seems to have some of the best funding for publicly funding pre-K and childcare. But still the parish is at high risk. How is that?
BROU: It could be multiple factors. I think some of the risk indicators that we looked at there aren’t programs available to address those things like unemployment rate and median household income. Those types of things, those are more of a parish-wide problem and less of just an early childhood problem.
GOIDEL: And if you think about it then there are really three different factors that you’d want to think about and we’re only getting at two. So one is what the risk in an individual parish? And really what we’d like to do is narrow even further to get at the risk of the individual child but that’s much further down the road. Then, what’s the reach of the program? How much money is being spent? And then what is the effectiveness of the program? And so, you can even imagine at the parish level, that you might have a high-risk parish, you may have a high-risk population, you may have a lot of money going but is it going in the right areas, in right neighborhoods within that community? And do the people who are most vulnerable have the best access to the care and to the services that they need?
WESTERMAN: And this question kind of follows up with that. Lina, the study reveals that some of the parishes, even with major cities like Shreveport and New Orleans are also at moderate-to-high risk. Why do you think that is?
BROU: Well, as a former resident of Caddo Parish, I can say that I think that a lot of the at-risk youth probably don’t have the access. They’re available, but for some reason or another they’re just not able to get to those programs or maybe these programs aren’t within those communities and making sure that they know these services are available to them.
WESTERMAN: Did any of this information surprise you all?
GOIDEL: Yea, I think the sort of central takeaway captures the surprise a little bit is that no matter where you go there are some risk factors at play. Even in relatively wealthy parishes, like a St. Tammany, they’re not completely free of risk to their children on some of these indicators. And even the poor parishes often have some strength from which to build and so they rate higher on some of these other characteristics and I think that was a little surprising. I expected to see that Mississippi Delta region really show up but there were parishes on some of the risk factors that were surprising.
WESTERMAN: So what do you want the leaders of this state to do with this information?
BROU: Well, I think we just want them to notice it. I think a big problem is that this is the first kind of study where it visually shows where these problems are and where the programs lie. When you can see it on a map, I think it’s a lot more effective and so we’re hoping that they will be aware of it because they may not be, and hopefully they’ll be able to implement the programs accordingly.
GOIDEL: We don’t see this as the ending of a conversation and you notice we didn’t offer solutions in the report because we’re not sure we have them. But we want them to think about where the resource is going, where’s the risk, what’s the nature of the risk and hopefully in the future we’ll refine our measures of risk, we’ll refine our measures of reach and we’ll move toward solutions.