Child and Youth Initiative

The Child and Youth Initiative restructured in 2012-2013 in order to expand our focus. The project’s goal is to identify the most pressing issues facing the Delta region’s children and help local stakeholders and policymakers develop realistic policies to address these problems.

Fall 2012: Legislative Recommendations for Expanding Early Childhood Education in Mississippi – This project focused on the need for state-funded pre-K in Mississippi. Team members first analyzed the general benefits of quality early childhood education, including school readiness for children as well as long-term individual and state benefits, such as cost-effectiveness. The paper then discusses potential costs and barriers to implementing state-funded pre-K. We then outlined the current conditions of early childhood education provision at the national and regional levels before providing a general overview of the situation in Mississippi with regard to early care. Finally, the discussion concluded with a survey of best practices of state-funded early childhood education from states identified as leaders in this area, with a particular focus on other rural and southern states, and recommendations for how Mississippi might replicate such programs.

School Readiness in the Mississippi Delta – This paper discusses the importance of school readiness, including its relationship to both educational outcomes and adult success. It then evaluates specific challenges the Mississippi Delta region faces with respect to preparing students for school and concludes with suggestions for devising realistic educational readiness interventions in the area.

Summer Learning Loss in the Mississippi Delta – This project explores the phenomenon known as “summer slide” or “summer learning loss,” in which poor students often digress developmentally and educationally over the summer due to a lack of educational opportunities. The paper first examines the importance of education generally for achieving various important social ends and then looks at poverty’s tendency to undermine these educational outcomes, focusing largely on information from the Mississippi Delta region. It will next examine the problem of summer learning loss generally as well as some solutions that are currently in place around the country. Finally, it will turn to examining how these solutions might be implemented within the Delta.

Spring 2013: Quality Ratings of Childcare Facilities in Mississippi- The Child and Youth Initiative is partnering with Mississippi First for this paper, which will address the need to ensure that state pre-K programs set high quality standards and also includes a range of private childcare providers. Current proposed early childhood legislation requires that childcare centers seeking state funds have three or more starts on the Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) scale. The first section of this paper will provide an overview of QRIS and the ways it has been applied in Mississippi. The second section will examine pre-K eligibility standards and the uses of QRIS in other southern states. In order to contextualize these standards that have been proposed in Mississippi and adopted in other southern states, this paper will compare them to basic childcare licensure requirements.

Reducing the School to Prison Pipeline Through the Use of Restorative Justice Principles in Mississippi Schools – This project will look at how Mississippi schools can address issues related to school discipline problems through the implementation of restorative justice programs and principles. Schools face a difficult challenge of managing discipline problems and maintaining safe learning environments while also recognizing and responding to the recent increase in what is known as the “school to prison pipeline.” This paper will first identify what restorative justice is and how it can work in schools. It will then provide an overview of the benefits of and potential concerns with restorative justice principles and related programs. Students will next discuss the current conditions related to school discipline and school to prison pipeline within Mississippi. Finally, the project will outline specific best practices being used in other rural and southern states which use restorative justice and related program to address school discipline issues, and it will identify future areas of research needed in this area.

Fall 2013: Towards a Mississippi Child Health Council – This  Child and Youth Initiative project focused on children’s healthcare in Mississippi. Our client was Mississippi Kids Count (a non-profit, non-partisan organization that collects and publishes research about the well-being of Mississippi’s children), which hopes to form a coordinated, statewide council made up of healthcare providers that would together to improve health outcomes for Mississippi’s children. Team members researched and wrote a policy brief, mainly for internal use and advocacy efforts, on the healthcare councils that exist in other states, clarifying what they do and how they are structured. Students also analyzed what features of other councils could be transposed to a similar body in Mississippi, based on the social and political context of the state.

Spring 2014: This semester’s Child and Youth Initiative project will focus on the use of restorative justice principles in Mississippi schools. Mississippi currently has no statewide standards for school discipline that ensure fairness and are aimed towards achieving educational goals. In recent years, many Mississippi school districts have recognized the discipline crisis and have put in place reforms to combat the school-to-prison pipeline. However, current conditions leave much to be done both on the statewide level, and in individual school districts. Our team will be building on a previous semester’s research to put together recommendations/best practices for a Mississippi school district on how to utilize restorative justice principles in public schools in order to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline.

Previous work product completed between 2009 and 2011 for the Mississippi Kids Count Initiative, the Child and Youth Initiative’s predecessor, can be found here.