This latest snowstorm had some pretty good snowball snow. You know the stuff — fluffy but just wet enough that it packs well. Not too wet (which is great for making a snow sculpture) and not too dry, fine and slippery (which is best for sledding).

Need a second opinion? Ask a kid.

In the crazy world of bureaucracy, budgets and politics, children sometimes get lost in the shuffle. They get lumped into enrollment data, class-size ratios and free lunches.

Reality check, folks.

A report out this week outlines just how key our children are to our everyday discussions, it provides valuable recommendations that place laser focus on how, as a state, we can better serve our children and help them to thrive.

Building Bright Futures distributed its 2019 report and the data is revealing.

Morgan Crossman, executive director of Building Bright Futures, wrote in her introduction, “The well-being of children is an important way we can measure our success as a society.”

Crossman points out that “ensuring optimal developmental outcomes and well-being for our youngest children is a vital role and can help us to grow a healthy economy and community.”

In turn, the report provides a snapshot of “how we are doing,” with strengths and weaknesses, as well as strategies for better helping Vermont families.

Here us a sampling of the results:

— Based on the most recent data (2017), the total number of children born each year in Vermont has declined since the 1980s. In 2017, 5,655 babies were born.

In Vermont, the age of women giving birth has increased in line with national trends. The fertility rate (births per 1,000 females by age) among teens has fallen from 23.4 to 10.3, while it has risen among females ages 35 to 44 from 21.3 to 31.5.

Single mothers with children younger than 5 experience poverty at three times the rate of other families.

— There are large differences in the number of children living in Vermont regions. More than 50% of Vermont’s children are concentrated in the four regions with the largest population centers: Chittenden (25.5%), Franklin (10.7%), Washington (10.7%) and Rutland (9%). Orleans and the northern Essex region had the lowest number of children at 4.6%.

— Although the vast majority of Vermont’s population identify as white, the state is growing more racially diverse, especially in early childhood. Almost half of the non-white population younger than 10 identify as two or more races or multiracial (4.2%), higher than in the Vermont population as a whole (1.9%). Similarly, 2.6% of children younger than 10 identify as Hispanic or Latino compared with 1.8% of the population as a whole. Black or African-American children younger than age 10 represent 1.3% of the total population by race; Asian, 1.5%.

Across Vermont, 63.9% of the population reported being a two-parent household; single-parent household, 26.4%; living with relatives, 6.9%; foster family or non-relatives, 2.4%.

In 2019, 888 children were reported to be homeless, down from 1,019 in 2017. (This data represents the number of children younger than 18 in publicly funded homeless shelters.)

Also in 2019, 246 children ages 0 to 2 were reported to be in protective custody; 235 children ages 3 to 5; and 178 children ages 6 to 8. In all, 659 children younger than 8.

The report also details early care and learning, family economic well-being, health and development, and new this year, early childhood and family mental health.

Buidling Bright Futures put forth a handful of recommendations:

— Support education costs and compensation for early childhood education workforce, including scholarships, loan repayment and wage supplementation.

— Investment in prevention and early detection builds resilient children who turn into resilient adults.

— Make the early childhood system easier to navigate so families receive high-quality and timely care.

— Continue investment in redesigning the state’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program.

— Build the capacity of parents and caregivers to promote children’s health and well-being.

— Ensure families are partners in mental health.

As a state, we still have a lot of work to do on behalf of our children (and families with children).

We urge advocates and lawmakers to make decisions this legislative session with them in mind. If you don’t, we know some experts who might throw serious snowballs your way.

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