The New York Times recently ran a story on the effect our economy is having on our children. It discussed the obvious, such as kids relying on outside sources for donated school supplies, but it also addressed some less apparent issues. For instance, one girl whose father had been laid off was terrified her family would have to move away and that she would lose her friends. The article was about children in Ohio, but it could just as easily have been about children in Rockland County as I learned when I met with a group of people who work here with children and families.
Even though the recession, technically, has ended, its impacts are far from over. Many of those impacts are evident at our schools. More and more children are in arrears for school lunches, and the increase in families on the Free and Reduced Lunch list is huge. Breakfasts served at school have multiplied, and school drives to provide hats, coats and food are now aimed at local families.
But there are less obvious hardships, too. An increasing number of children reside in shelters or shared living quarters, robbing them of private space for study. Parents who have never before been out of work now have to rely on outside assistance. Divorce rates appear to be up. When parents are under stress, that stress is felt by children and the toll is incalculable.
As we learned from a report on children’s health I authored with the help of Rockland experts in 2007, when it comes to mental health, early intervention is needed before a child develops a problem that may impair him or her for a lifetime. Teachers are intervening and deserve big thanks. They see the increase in need and are helping children after hours, mentoring, tutoring and caring.
Rockland County offers other ways to help our children. Fifteen years ago, I founded Rockland 21C, which established forty Family Resource Centers in schools throughout the County, providing critical support for families. The mission of 21C is to ensure the best possible future for every child by building a comprehensive support system linking, family, school and community. Find info on this & other programs at www.informationrockland.com
And of course, there’s each of us. No matter where in Rockland we live, somewhere nearby is a child who could use a little extra help. Each of us can be the source of that assistance.
Harriet Cornell is Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature. She represents Legislative District 10 which encompasses the Villages of Nyack, Upper Nyack, Central Nyack and parts of West Nyack and New City.