By Amy Bounds Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 11/28/2010 09:39:53 PM MST
Boulder may look good on the surface, but there are still children living in poverty -- nearly one in 10, according to the city -- who don't have access to health care and who start school behind and never catch up.
The Boulder City Council is taking a closer look at such youth issues at a Tuesday study session, with a goal of making sure the city has programs in place to address the needs of children.
"We just wanted time to see what's up with kids in our town," Mayor Susan Osborne said. "We want to check in and see if we're doing the right things."
With a lower percentage of children living in Boulder than in surrounding communities, she said, it's also important that families looking to move here know it's a good place for them.
"We need to present ourselves to the world as a place that's very, very kid friendly," she said.
To prepare for the session, city staff members researched youth issues and, with the help of focus groups, identified priorities for the city and possible strategies to address them.
Priority issues include child and family poverty; access to health care, healthy activities and more health education; educational outcomes, opportunities for meaningful children and youth civic engagement; children unprepared to begin elementary school education; and access to quality out of school programs.
In 2009, an estimated 1,113 -- almost one in 10 -- Boulder children lived below the federal poverty guidelines, which is $22,050 a year for a family of four. Boulder's Emergency Family Assistance Association also is reporting a 21 percent increase in the number of families seeking financial help since January 2008.
Housing, transportation and child care are all expensive in Boulder, leading some people to quit their jobs because their expenses are higher than what they can earn at work, according to the city.
Click on any photo to see full gallery A Boulder County child care needs assessment in 2009 found that the average annual cost of infant care at either center-based or home-based facilities in Boulder was higher than the median rent in Boulder. It's also higher than tuition and fees for two full-time undergraduate semesters at the University of Colorado.
Cindy Smith, Boulder's Children, Youth and Families division manager, said the goal is to make sure the city is up to date in addressing the needs of its young people.
"We're already addressing a lot of the issues that came up in the community analysis," she said. "But there are more needs because of the economy."
While there's not money in the city's budget for expensive new programs, city officials said, there are low-cost options and the possibility of redirecting money.
One recommendation is to provide free or reduced cost bus passes to low-income children so they can participate in community programs. Another is to expand existing programs, such as Boulder Reads, and offer internships to young people in city departments. Expanding existing city-sponsored recreation and educational programs, such as library story times, also is suggested.
Another emphasis is on community partnerships, which Smith said are one of the city's strengths.
"You can pool resources like staff time and funding to make a greater impact than just one agency might be able to make on its own," she said.
One of the city's partnerships is with Growing Up Boulder, an initiative focused on making the city a better place for children and youth. Debra Flanders Cushing, coordinator for Growing Up Boulder, said she hopes the study session is just the start to bringing youth issues to the forefront.
Growing Up Boulder now is surveying the community to assess the needs of children in Boulder. Cushing said she would like to see Boulder follow the lead of other cities by adopting a children's bill of rights and a youth master plan.
She said people often dismiss initiatives like this as better suited to inner cities than places like Boulder.
"Unfortunately, when we look deeper, we see that there are serious issues children and youth are dealing with," Cushing said.
She said one common complaint is that there aren't enough community spaces where teens feel comfortable hanging out with friends without being harassed, or places that are fun, inexpensive and free from drugs and alcohol.
"More collaboration between city departments, the school district, the University of Colorado and other community non-profits is necessary to find creative solutions," Cushing said.
Read more: With nearly 1 in 10 children in poverty, Boulder tackles youth issues