The only time my wellbeing was threatened was when I really, really, really, really, really wanted a Nintendo video game system. I was in junior high school, probably 12 or 13 years old, and it was the hottest toy a young man could possess. Sure, I still had my Transformers and He-Man action figures, but making Mario and Luigi jump around or sending my car peeling around the track on a TV screen were much more compelling.
It was also much more expensive, and something my parents couldn’t afford. They explained this in no uncertain terms to me, so I did what any logical, self-sufficient adolescent boy would do: I cried to grandma. Of course, grandma obliged and acquired the much-desired hunk of electronics, saving me from certain death. I played with my new Nintendo passionately for about a year before deciding it would be put to better use as a dust collector in the closet.
If this was the only hiccup in my childhood wellbeing, my parents must have done a pretty good job. Since I never had to think about whether I would eat, have a place to sleep, a roof over my head, a doctor to visit or a school to attend, I was able to think about the Nintendo and other important issues of childhood. An element of that childhood was to believe every other kid had the same kind of life I did, which prevented me from worrying about whether my classmate was going hungry as we sat in math class.
As an adult, I still didn’t encounter many children whose wellbeing was threatened — but then I didn’t encounter many children period. That changed in recent weeks when I became a foster parent. I am now taking care of two children whose wellbeing was so severely threatened they were removed from their home and placed with me and my girlfriend. Now, it is my job to see to their welfare, and it makes me happy to watch them grow accustomed to not worrying about their next meal or having a bed of their own.
Within the confines of our new little “family” it is easy to think the problem of child wellbeing has been solved. But then I learned that every single child at their elementary school receives free breakfast and lunch. The reason for this is that enough of the students qualify for the free meals courtesy of the federal government that they just go ahead and give the food to everyone. Suddenly, I was seeing lots of little children whose wellbeing is tenuous at best.
This week, the annual “2012 Kids Count” report indicated that Nevada is 48th in the nation in terms of overall child wellbeing. In 2010, 22 percent of Nevada children under the age of 18 lived in poverty, the report said. Between 2005 and 2010, the child poverty rate rose 47 percent, representing an increase of 54,000 children.
The state ranked last in the number of teens who did not attend school or work. Of teens aged 16 to 19, 15 percent fell into that category, a 36 percent jump from 2008 that represents an increase of 7,000 teens.
Nevada also ranked 50th in the percent of 3- and 4-year-olds who did not attend preschool, as well as the number of high school students who fail to graduate on time. In 2008-2009, only 44 percent of high school students graduated, the same percentage as in 2005-2006.
With a mortgage crisis and joblessness, Nevada already has been very unkind to its adults and it seems the children are faring no better. I shouldn’t be surprised to hear this news, but maybe I’ve just had head-in-the-sand syndrome about this my whole life. I see a child and assume because he or she is running through the sprinklers or riding a bike that everything else is OK. Without a doubt, many of my childhood peers went through some rough times I never knew about. I can recall that they weren’t rich but who knows I am sure that many of the children who became a statistic in this report will go on to lead full productive lives, but it does pain me to think that their parents’ worries are trickling down and affecting their young lives. These kids will have plenty of time to worry about such things when they grow up.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my foster kids want to teach me how to play Nintendo Wii.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.