Home is Where the Help Is
Nine million children. That’s the estimated number of kids left behind in China’s rural villages while their parents seek better jobs in larger cities. Often, these children are left with grandparents who don’t have the resources they need to support childhood development. Other children who go with their parents are left with limited resources to quality education and health care due to China’s household registration system. These families represent the human cost of China’s rapid economic growth in the process of urbanization.
Studies show that these “left-behind” children are more likely to struggle in school, develop social and emotional problems and get involved in criminal activity. For children to thrive, they need the love and support of a caring adult in their lives. To ease the heavy toll on China’s families, United Way teamed up with China Charity Federation to create Love and Care Children’s Homes—safe and welcoming places for children to get the educational and emotional support they need. Typically located within a school or community center, these homes also facilitate regular communication between kids and parents.
There are currently 38 model homes in 16 provinces throughout China, benefitting more than 10,000 children and counting. Our goal is to provide a solution that can be adopted by the government, and to mobilize all sectors in local communities to deliver collective impact for a better living for the millions of left-behind children in China.
Giving Children a Strong Start in Life
As the bell rang for fourth period, Sarah entered her high school auditorium— but she wasn’t there for class. Sarah, who had given birth one week prior, was on maternity leave. Instead of staying home, she packed her diaper bag, strapped her baby into the car seat and ventured back to school to participate in United Way of the Quad Cities Area’s Born Learning Academy.
As Sarah learned while she was pregnant, the first few years of a child’s life are critical for their growth and development. From birth to age five, a child’s brain develops more—and more rapidly—than at any other time in life. That’s why Sarah enrolled in the Academy, a part of United Way’s Born Learning initiative, and one that grew from the passion that Women United volunteers in Iowa have for ensuring young children are ready for kindergarten. Partnerships with schools, early learning centers, churches and neighborhoods ensure the academies are successful.
The Academy offers six free workshops and practical tools to turn everyday activities—like bath time or driving to daycare—into early learning moments. Each workshop is led by trained professionals (usually local teachers, principals or other education staff) and focuses on topics specific to children younger than five, such as relationship building, language skills, nutrition and health and how children learn. The Academy also provides families with free childcare and nutritious meals. For individuals who attend five of the six workshops, a tablet with access to age-appropriate apps is provided.
“There’s no instruction manual that comes with having a child,” said Leslee Cook, United Way of the Quad Cities Area’s manager of community impact and Born Learning. “We’re all in this together, and United Way is here to help support our families and give our kids a strong start in life.”
Eliminating Obstacles to Early Learning
Education is the cornerstone of a successful life, but not every family has the resources to give their children a good start. Enter United Way. By improving the quality of childcare, increasing access to education and promoting early intervention to strengthen academic abilities, United Way is helping children achieve important developmental and educational milestones.
Take Byron, a preschooler from central Kentucky. After Byron entered the Growing Together Preschool, which is funded by United Way of the Bluegrass, teachers noticed he was having difficulty communication and comprehension. Screenings and assessments indicated delays in speech, as well as fine motor and social-emotional development. After talking with Byron’s family, coordinators created a roadmap for the therapy services he needed before entering kindergarten.
Early in the process, Byron’s parents learned their son’s Medicaid coverage would not pay for the therapy expenses, and the family couldn’t afford the services. To avoid burdening Byron’s parents with additional stress, Growing Together Preschool partnered with Horn and Associates in Rehabilitation to secure a scholarship for Byron’s therapy. As a result, Byron overcame his physical and mental obstacles, and the skills he gained helped him successfully transition from pre-school to pre-kindergarten.
United Way funds programs and agencies that make quality, early childhood education available to thousands of children across central Kentucky. More than 30,000 local children were served through programs like Growing Together Preschool this year, and countless more are getting the help they need through similar programs around the world. It’s just one of the many ways United Way is fighting to give children a foundation for early learning.
Turning the Page on Childhood Literacy
Research shows that children who can’t read by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school than children who can read proficiently by that time. The benefits of early literacy are not lost on United Way Australia, which is helping children read through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
Started in 1996 by country music star, Dolly Parton, the library is a community-based initiative that provides children up to five years of age with free home-delivered books, and their parents and caregivers with literacy resources, each month. More than 100 million books have been distributed globally to date, including 175,000+ books to underprivileged children across Australia.
In Australia, 22 percent of children start school “developmentally vulnerable.” United Way is using the library to improve early learning outcomes for these children, while helping their parents identify early developmental issues. For families facing financial hardship and social disadvantages, the free books go a long way toward building the early literacy and numeracy skills their children need to thrive.
“The Imagination Library has been great because it gets parents involved at an early age by spending time with their kids and identifying needs,” said Terri Ridgeway, a Library coordinator in Queensland. “Children are learning, listening, sitting still … all the social skills that are imperative for early learning in school and later in life.”
A Roadmap for Childhood Nutrition
Malnutrition has no borders. India, for example, has one of the highest malnourishment rates in children in the world. This issue is compounded by poverty and other socioeconomic issues faced by tribal and rural communities. In Maharashtra, nearly half of all deaths in children below the age of five are due to undernourishment. Last year, as many as 83,068 children under the age of six were categorized as being severely underweight. United Way Mumbai is fighting to lower this number.
Chronic malnutrition has severe consequences on a child’s life, including an increased likelihood of premature death, susceptibility to disease, impaired cognitive skills and academic performance, lower physical capability, and long-term negative effects on brain and nerve development. Working with the Integrated Child Development Scheme, United Way is tackling childhood malnutrition through Project Poshan, a program that enables employees of Anganwadis—government-funded childcare centers—to amplify their efforts when fighting hunger and malnutrition locally.
Among other efforts this year, United Way distributed nutritional supplementation to nearly 2,000 children in need, delivering 347,900 meals of high-caloric value. They also contributed to the capacity-building of Anganwadi workers, facilitated medical referrals for severely malnourished children, and counseled parents on hygiene and low-cost nutrition. Thanks to United Way, communities received a roadmap for improving childhood nutrition and ensuring long-term recovery.