“We try to get children off the streets and into an educational environment where they are safe and secure,” said Mike Pomi, executive director of the Children’s Cabinet. “When you have people who connect with these kids and their families and embrace them, and they embrace you back, you can achieve great accomplishments.”
Pomi with program director and first lady Kathleen Sandoval spoke Tuesday at the Children’s Cabinet offices in Reno about areas Nevada has improved upon and areas in need of further programming to help children.
“The role of the Children’s Cabinet is to really look at gaps in the community and try to fill them and the book helps identify those gaps,” Sandoval said. “One of the areas needing focus is teen suicide, as well as teen homicide, which are the top two causes of teen death behind accidents.”
The teen death rate between 2008 and 2010 was 54.3 percent, a 3.8 percent improvement from the 2007-2009 report. Nevada also showed improvement in the teen birth rate (-3.1 percent), high school dropout rate (-0.2 percent) and child death rate (-1.4 percent). Sandoval said continuing to lower these numbers aligns closely with gang-prevention programs.
“Unfortunately, we have seen many fatalities from gang activity. That is why we need to focus on getting more programming in that area,” she said.
Nevada also showed improvement in the high school dropout rate (-0.2 percent) and child death rate (-1.4 percent). Nevada saw an increase in children in poverty, from 17.6 percent to 21.3 percent, which Sandoval said is due to the poor economy.
One of the priorities for the Children’s Cabinet is to improve the lives of children in the juvenile justice system. Representatives said they have seen cases where children and teens are overcoming addictions to drugs and alcohol, family conflicts and pregnancy and are able to help them receive education through their School of Life.
“It’s great for us to see someone come in off the streets who is not doing very well, and then come into their own and keep coming back for our services,” said Ashley Oliveira, coordinator for the School of Life. The school currently educates 20 students in two classrooms and offers services such as family counseling for children and teens.
The Kids Count Data Book is presented to Nevada legislators when grants are proposed for funding in certain areas, and they are looked at closely by Nevada agencies and state-funded committees in their assessment of how to better serve Nevadans, according to data book committee member Norma Moyle.
During his work with the juvenile justice system, Pomi said his average caseload of children fell from an average of 77 to 40. He cites the partnership with the Children’s Cabinet and its services as the driving force behind helping troubled children in the community.
“The kids are stabilized by having somebody to check in with and somebody that cares about them,” Pomi said. “It is a positive effect to them because they may be getting out of drugs and alcohol or out of gangs and they need support.”
Pomi said that the data in the book is the best representation that the programs being implemented are making progress with the children in the community, but he stressed “what you won’t find in the book” is the personal connection the Children’s Cabinet personnel make with each person who comes in.
“That is the beauty of what we do. We can get a kid that comes in who is mad, angry or disgusted with life and it takes that person who willing to listen to them for a while and not judge them, give them ideas for services and we can help stabilize them,” he said. “If they land here, they are safe here.”
The data for the 2012 Kids Count will be released July 25 with more current information. The full data book can be downloaded or ordered at www.kidscount.org.