St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands – St. Croix Foundation for Community Development (SCF) is pleased to announce the release of the territory’s 2023 KIDS COUNT USVI Data Book, entitled “A CALL TO ACTION: Sounding the Alarm on Child Well-being in the U.S. Virgin Islands.” The Data Book was presented to a broad range of community stakeholders on Tuesday, December 19, 2023, at 10:00 AM AST during a Virtual Community Stakeholder Presentation open to the public.
A national initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), KIDS COUNT© has evolved into one of the largest, long-standing data repositories in the United States focused on the status of children and families. A national network of nonprofits, foundations, and consortia from all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, KIDS COUNT is seen as a vital means of providing critical data about child well-being for many federal, state, and local government agencies.
During the virtual data presentation on December 19th, SCF’s KIDS COUNT Team provided an overview of the 2023 USVI Data Book to Government and Nonprofit Partners and Community Stakeholders. The Data Book comprehensively reports on the status of U.S. Virgin Islands youth in four primary domains: Family and Community, Education, Health, and Economic Well-being. Additionally, KIDS COUNT USVI includes spotlights on Opportunity Youth (ages 16-24) and Community Bright Spots, which incorporates the territory’s nonprofit sector as a vital component of the USVI’s system of supports for children.
An electronic copy of the 2023 KIDS COUNT USVI Data Book is available at https://stxfoundation.info/2023KIDSCOUNTUSVIDataBook. Interested parties may also watch a recording of the Community Presentation at https://stxfoundation.info/KIDSCOUNTUSVI_2023Presentation. Additionally, physical copies of the 2023 Data Book may be requested by reaching out to the Foundation directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 340.773.9898.
The 2023 KIDS COUNT USVI Data Book includes data collected from the most current available data sources from the public and civic (nonprofit) sector throughout the territory, reporting on conditions across all ages of childhood. As part of St. Croix Foundation’s strategy, this year’s data book again targets “Opportunity Youth” (youth ages 16-24 who are not in school and not working). Hot Spots surrounding this age group include an increase in violent crimes
committed, from 198 in 2021 to 243 in 2022 – an increase of 22.7%. Still, youth employment and internship opportunities increased. According to the Department of Labor, its employment programs aimed at opportunity youth had increased enrollment in 2022, with 895 total participants across its three youth-focused programs, an increase from 837 participants in 2021.
For children of all ages, some of the data is urgent and consequential to the future of the U.S. Virgin Islands: 33% of children in the USVI are living in poverty. Among children five years of age and younger, poverty rates are higher across the territory: on the island of St. Croix, the poverty rate for children under five is 42%.
But there are also tangible Bright Spots throughout the territory. Civic organizations such as My Brothers Workshop, Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls of the VI, Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, St. Thomas East End Medical Center, and many more agencies such as the VI Department of Labor and Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation are transforming the lives of youth in our community each day. In fact, many agencies reported a higher demand for their services. For example, the Family Resource Center on St. Thomas served 379 minors in 2022, a large increase compared to the 222 served in 2021.
Also reported in the Data Book: In School Year 2021-2022, academic assessment scores among the USVI’s student population have declined significantly after the 2019 hurricanes and COVID-19. 95% of 7th graders were Not Proficient in Math and 84% were Not Proficient in English Language Arts. Among 11th graders this trend continues with 70.6% as Not Proficient in English Language Arts; and 95% as Not Proficient in Math. Yet, there are also Bright Spots: The graduation rate for the 2021-2022 school year was 74.4%, the highest percentage since the 2016-2017 school year.
There are also important Bright Spots for our community around health that may also serve as models for our territory and the nation. As stated in the 2023 USVI Data Book, “According to the US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, the USVI reported the highest breastfeeding percentage rate (including fully and partially breastfed infants) of all WIC State agencies at 70.9% in fiscal year 2021 (October 1, 2020, through September 30, 2021). The nationally leading breastfeeding rate enabled the USVI to blunt the impacts of the national baby formula shortages experienced in 2022. The USVI WIC program’s efforts in promoting and providing resources for mothers allowed for sufficient stock of infant formula even as shortages were prevalent nationwide. The USVI WIC staff conducted targeted outreach to achieve the high levels of breastfeeding, including Zoom classes, nutrition training, providing funds for purchases directly from local farmer’s markets, and doing community outreach at public housing facilities in both districts.”
In the domain of health, a worrying Hot Spot is child maltreatment. In 2022, there was a 39% increase in cases of reported child maltreatment from 2021. This increase is particularly striking as child maltreatment had been decreasing each year from a high of 420 cases in 2019 down to 208 in 2021.
According to Dr. Saul Santiago, Principal Investigator and Data Analyst of KIDS COUNT USVI, “We have compiled, analyzed, and reported up-to-date and comprehensive information, including charts and visualizations, over the last three years on child well-being in the US Virgin Islands. The startling trends found in the extensive data sets of our USVI KIDS COUNT Data Books must serve as a call to action for all stakeholders to work together and ensure a brighter future for our territory.”
A central data point that frames all other data in the 2023 Data Book is the overarching age of the territorial population: Since 2000, the number of children in the USVI has decreased by half according to the 2020 Census. At the same time, the Virgin Islands has become the most rapidly aging population in the United States, with a median age of 45.9 years compared to the national median age of 38.8 years old. As births have decreased and young people have left the island, all age groups under 40 experienced a decline in population between 2010 and 2020, creating an alarming trend that has far-reaching implications for every aspect of the Virgin Island’s future, from workforce development to healthcare and education. The 2023 KIDS COUNT USVI Data Book also urges greater commitment to “systems-thinking” in order to foster collaboration across sectors and connect seemingly disparate data domains so that the Virgin Islands can, more effectively identify and address urgent issues through data-driven policy, programs, and services.
St. Croix Foundation President and CEO of St. Croix Foundation, Deanna James, posed several pointed questions to stakeholders, namely: “Have we, as a territory, upheld our social contracts with children over the course of time? And, most importantly, as we face the reality that our community is growing older and our child population is evaporating, who are we building for? And, what if we were heading toward a future without children?” In the 2023 Data Book’s Welcome Section, James stated that, “While (the Foundation) has tried to maintain neutrality in our storytelling and data sharing, this year’s datasets have felt like a blaring S.O.S. requiring deeper interrogation, context, and decisive action. Intentionally, the image for our 2023 cover, courtesy of David Berg, depicts a child in shadows, on a beach in Frederiksted, blowing a conch shell – symbolism meant to both sound an alarm and issue a call to order.”
St. Croix Foundation extends its deepest appreciation to the Annie E. Casey Foundation for supporting child well-being in the U.S. Virgin Islands through KIDS COUNT©, and to its many local and national partners who support this work including Seven Seas Water Group, TEAM Consultants, OCWEN Services, Tropical Shipping, and GAM Software. Special acknowledgement also goes to the Foundation’s public and civic sector Data Partners for their collaboration and commitment to children and families in the Virgin Islands. Questions about the initiative should be directed to President Deanna James of St. Croix Foundation at 340.773.9898 or DJames@stxfoundation.org.