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Data that Drives Change

A 2018 impACT story

Every morning, children arrive at schools across Alaska with empty bellies. Some haven’t had enough breakfast – or any at all. Others haven’t eaten since they left school the previous day.

These kids aren’t hungry to learn – they’re just hungry.

The 2018 KIDS COUNT Alaska Economic Well-Being Report tells us that 20 percent of Alaska’s kids live in households where there is not enough food.

While data like this doesn’t put food on the table, it does provide the information decision-makers need to implement efforts to address the problem.

Data plays a huge role at schools like Anchorage’s Willow Crest Elementary, which offers a free breakfast and lunch program to 100 percent of its students.

“Schools receive the free meals through their having a high number of students who qualify for free/reduced lunch,” explains Kristina Peterson, who served as Willow Crest principal for eight years. “Students qualify based on the income level of the family. When a school has a high level of students qualifying, the entire student population can be provided the free meals.”

The importance of data is why Voices for Alaska’s Children, a program of Alaska Children’s Trust, became the Alaska KIDS COUNT partner in 2016. KIDS COUNT, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is the premier source for data on child and family well-being in Alaska and throughout the United States. The mission of KIDS COUNT is to ensure child advocates, policymakers and the public have access to high-quality, unbiased data about child well-being.

Information for the Alaska reports is provided by state and federal sources, then compiled and presented by Voices for Alaska’s Children.  As the KIDS COUNT Alaska partner, Voices looks at the data through an Alaska lens, putting out quarterly reports that give a view of what’s going on in Alaska compared to the rest of the country. The data is available to anyone, from parents to program managers to policymakers.

“Just 20 years ago, there was no centralized place to get information on kids and families,” says Andrew Cutting, who oversees KIDS COUNT Alaska. “It’s a big deal. Not a lot of data sets are nationally focused on kids and families, or as easily accessible.”

One of the noteworthy aspects of KIDS COUNT is that it uses the same measurements to compare Alaska to other state and national data in areas including economic well-being, education, health, family and community, and overall child well-being.

For example, the 2018 KIDS COUNT Alaska Economic Well-Being Report shows that 36 percent of Alaska’s children are living in poverty – significantly above the national average of 19 percent. Overall, Alaska ranked 41 out of 50 in a state-to-state comparison of economic well-being in 2018.

“It compares apples to apples,” Andrew says. “It makes shocking numbers even more shocking.”

By demonstrating Alaska’s disproportionately high numbers, the data underscores the need for a shift in strategy. “If you keep going the same path, you are going to get the same results,” Andrew says. “When you change your outlook and try new things, you’ll start to get better outcomes.”

Back at Willow Crest and other schools across the state, data continues to drive decisions to benefit students and their families.

“It’s already difficult for many families to provide their kids with what they need, so we’re taking a burden off those families by providing a couple meals a day for their children,” Kristina says. “When you know your child is safe and being cared for, it opens the doors for you to do the things you need to do to help support your family.”

Learn more about Voices for Alaska’s Children and access KIDS COUNT data at voicesakchildren.org.

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