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Focus on Indian health

AT THE 2010 KIDS COUNT EVENT at the Shooting Star Casino Wednesday, Sept. 15 were, from left, Joan LaVoy, White Earth Education Director, Barb Fabre, White Earth Child Care Director, Robert Durant, White Earth Secretary-Treasurer, Kara Arzamendia, Research Directorfor the Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota, Mary Leff, White Earth Early Childhood Initiative coordinator.

According to data released in the "2010 Kids Count" book, "communities that experience segregation and lack of access to jobs, nutritious foods and decent housing can harm the families who call these neighborhoods home."

It goes on to say that those communities tend to have higher rates of poverty, lower incomes and lower rates of educational attainment.

Every year, the Minnesota Children's Defense Fund puts out a data book with statistics highlighting where Minnesota children are in terms of poverty, education and heath care.

The 2010 book focuses on children of American Indian descent, African Americans, Asians and Hispanics.

Although some of the statistics show little to no improvement in the past few years, some were highlighted as positive changes, especially for the White Earth Reservation community.

The White Earth Child Care program hosted an event last week where the public reviewed the book and asked about some of its results.

According to the research, data shows that immunization rates from 2001 to 2006 declined among all races and ethnic groups in Minnesota.

However, American Indian children received the highest coverage rates of immunization, according to the White Earth Indian Health Services.

Selected immunization rates of 2-year-olds as of January 2007 was at 81 percent in White Earth compared with 68 percent in Becker County, according to the book.

"It was an unusual statistic, part of the reason why the statistic is high is because of our home health program," said Mary Leff, White Earth child care liaison.

The White Earth Early Childhood initiative was highlighted as one of the "Stars of the State" in this year's Kids Count book for its increased efforts in promoting early childhood programs and incentives for parents.

The home health program was one of the areas where the Early Childhood initiative collaborates with other agencies in the community to keep parents caught up with immunization.

To improve literacy, a "read mobile" was established for children because the nearest libraries are more than 20 miles away from the White Earth village.

Additionally, program directors are working on increasing family child care homes, head start and child care centers in all communities of the reservation.

"Those are all opportunities for parents to have their kids in an environment where they are prepared to be ready for school," Leff said.

Two new early learning centers will be open next spring in Pine Point and White Earth, near the tribal college, she added.

But White Earth residents and educators understand that the book highlights some disparities and some things to improve on.

According to the data, in 2008, 46 percent of American Indian students planned to go to college.

"American Indian and Hispanic students are least likely to have plans to go to college and least likely to enroll in post secondary education after graduating high school," the 2010 Kids Count book stated.

The overall results of the research shows a strong correlation between education funding, employment opportunities for parents, safety and location of where children are living and access to health care.

Leff said intervening early in children's lives can produce positive outcomes, which is part of why there is a large focus on early childhood on the reservation.

"Prevention and intervention are huge and if we can intervene early in kids' lives, those kids can be healthy and ready for school," she said.

To view the full Kids Count report, click on the PDF document in this article's related content.