Agencies struggle with children's poverty

Nonprofits work to reverse worsening trend in county

Montezuma County agencies are working to reverse generational poverty, but a recent study shows that challenges remain.

More children in Montezuma County slipped into poverty and faced greater risks to their well-being in 2012, according to a study by the Children's Campaign released March 24.

The data show 32 percent of local children lived in poverty in 2012 compared with 26 percent the year before. This was the highest child poverty rate out of the state's 25 largest counties.

Other concerning trends included the increased rate of births to teen moms from 15 to 19 years old. From 2011 to 2012, the rate increased from 49.9 per 1,000 to 52 per 1,000. In 2000, the rate was 17.5 teen births per 1000.

Breaking generational poverty is key to turning around negative trends seen in the county, such as the high teen birth rate, said Vangi McCoy, director of the Montelores Early Childhood Council.

"Poverty truly impacts every other area of the childs' life," she said.

The Piņon Project Family Resource Center has several programs to address causes of poverty.

But Piņon's executive director, Kellie Willis, knows it will be a slow journey for the community.

"The basic statistics will start to look better, but it's going to be slow trend upwards," she said.

The county also struggles in education. More than half of all Montezuma fourth-graders were not proficient reading in 2012, the data show.

Students who can't read proficiently by fourth grade are much more likely to drop out of school, said McCoy.

Montezuma-Cortez School District has underperformed on state required assessments for the past four years.

In January, district administrators told The Cortez Journal that the one of the main challenges to meeting the state standards is kindergartners who come to school unprepared to learn.

About half the preschool students in the county are in an early childhood learning center, said McCoy. There is much evidence that children who go to a quality early childhood center do better in school, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

All the centers in the county have received quality ratings from the state, though only about 10 percent of the centers statewide have been rated, McCoy said.

These ratings measure learning environment, family partnerships, staff training and education and student-to-teacher ratio.

The council also tries to reach family, friends and neighbors who are caring for young children through training and other events.

Get involved

The Pinon Project is in need of mentors. Call: 564-1195

The Montelores Early Childhood Council is holding the annual Early Childhood Fair April 26 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the County Annex and it will feature all kinds of free health screenings.