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Wednesday, May 22, 2024


The Virgin Islands community needs to set clear priorities to help its children, according to a group from public and private human services agencies and non-profit organizations that met Wednesday to hear the results of "Kids Count, " the recently released report on the state of Virgin Islands children. The group was also assembled to recommend ways to mobilize the community in response to what is clearly a crisis.
On the third and final day of meetings organized by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands to formally present the first "Kids Count Data Book" to be published in the Virgin Islands, human services professionals – who did not balk at the statistics showing the dire state of the territory's children – agreed that the first imperative is communication.
"The enormity of the problem (with children) indicates there is no one answer," Dee Baecher-Brown, CFVI executive director, said. But the consensus of Wednesday's group was first, to get the report out to all segments of the community, and second, to keep the issues addressed in it — the largest being poverty — on the community’s radar screen.
The report revealed that 41 percent of Virgin Islands children live in "dire" poverty, below the federal standard of $16,000 per year for a family of four.
Brown said in reviewing the way other communities think of poverty, it was found that most consider "poverty" to be twice that amount, or $32,000 a year for a family of four.
"So when we talk about poverty in the Virgin Islands," she said, "it's important to note we are talking about 'dire' poverty."
John deJongh Jr., president of CFVI's board and chair and co-chair of the governor's Five-Year Economic Recovery Plan and the Cruise Ship Task Forces, respectively, said it is easy to see the relationship between our shrinking economy and the Kids Count statistics.
With the V.I. median income being 30 percent below the national average, as revealed by the report, the cost of living being 30 percent higher than the states – which was documented recently in the U.S.V.I. Consumer Expenditure Survey — and reported declines in the number of jobs here, deJongh said it was no surprise that poverty is a huge problem in the Virgin Islands.
DeJongh said the CFVI board has targeted three major concerns: widespread child poverty, family structure and the territory’s high dropout rate. The Kids Count study revealed that:
– 44 percent of Virgin Islands children live in single family households, compared to a 27 percent national average.
– 27 percent of V.I. children do not live with either parent. There was no comparable breakdown for the U.S.
— The number of V.I. children living with two parents dropped from 43.6 percent in 1990 to 40.7 percent in 1995 to 36 percent in 1997.
— 22 percent of V.I. children age 16 to 19 are school dropouts. Nationally the figure is 10 percent.
— 41 percent of V.I. children live in poverty compared to 20 percent nationally.
Wednesday's participants said individuals and community organizations need to fill the gaps left where the parents aren't present and the government can't help.
Verna Christian-Garcia and Judith Richardson, who took the rough draft of the survey out to community groups to get feedback, both said it was notable that few of the people they interviewed tried to throw the responsibility back to the government.
Instead, according to Christian-Garcia, the "individuals are ready, willing and able (to help). They only need the wherewithal." She said in approaching some of the more "down and out" people in the community, the response regarding children's safety was, "'Some of us are not working. The least we can do is meet the bus.'"
"They didn't say, 'the government should…,'" she added.
For more information or to obtain a copy of the report, call Dee Baecher-Brown at 340-774-6031 or e-mail dbrowncfvi@worldnet.att.net.

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