Op-Ed: Put Texas Kids First

There are more than 73 million children under 18 living in the U.S., and over seven million of them call Texas home. The biennial Texas Kids Count report brings together data across five categories of child well-being, including health, education, economic well-being, environmental impact on children’s health, and safe communities and schools. This year’s report is an alarming wake-up call for policymakers and our community: we are not meeting our children’s needs.

For over a decade, Every Texan and Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. have partnered to provide data trends and insights into the well-being of children at the state and county levels. Our commitment to Texas children means that we want to help create solutions to address the disparities detailed in our report. For example, when 1.9 million children in Texas are experiencing food insecurity, it is also our job to push this data into action by developing policy solutions that expand programs addressing child food insecurity, such as SNAP. When 12% of the state’s child population is uninsured, and most are Hispanic/Latino, we must pursue policies like Medicaid expansion. 

Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General declared that youth mental health was the defining challenge of our country. The data from our Kids Count book supports this claim. In 2020, over half a million Texas children ages 3-17 experienced depression or anxiety, a 23% increase from 2016, and Black and Latino children experienced the most significant increases in depression and anxiety between 2016 and 2020. Data from the 2021 Texas Youth Risk and Behavior Survey show that even more children of color attempted suicide in 2021, with 14% of Black, 13% of Latino, and 16% of multiracial high school students reporting attempted suicide. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning (LGBTQ) youth disproportionately experience poor mental health outcomes compared to their straight and cisgender peers. Access to health insurance plays a prominent role in addressing children’s mental health challenges. 

As the Texas population continues to grow in number and diversity, state officials and legislators must themselves grow to understand Texas children and their experiences, challenges, and opportunities to support them with common-sense policy. For example, with strong opposition from LGBTQ advocates, legislators have pushed harmful legislation like SB 14, which would deny care that medical groups say is critical to a group already facing higher risks of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. Texas lawmakers must consider the impact of race and ethnicity –– along with socioeconomic factors –– and prioritize the needs of children and families of underrepresented groups when crafting policies. 

Commonsense policy solutions and investments can put all Texas children on a path to better outcomes. Our joint advocacy and commitment to creating a better Texas for our children means we must continue highlighting these findings and advocating for children at the Texas Legislature. For our community partners, including parents, organizations, and interested advocates, we hope that you will join us in our mission to ensure every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or identity, achieves their highest potential and lives their healthiest life. Our children are growing into the leaders of tomorrow – putting them first will help create a Texas that is better for us all.

This op-ed was originally published in Texas Signal here.

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