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Equality Before the Law: Commentary Series Part 1, Introduction and Methodology

This year’s Kids Count in Nebraska Report featured a commentary debuting our new Index of Race & Opportunity for Nebraska Children. This blog post is the first in a series diving into the commentary.

Nebraska’s population of people of color is growing rapidly, and is expected to double to 38% of our state’s total population by 2050. Now, more than ever, it is important to embrace our state motto, “Equality before the Law.” Chosen as a founding principle for our state, Nebraska has long embraced the necessity of equality among its residents regardless of the color of their skin and as a foundation for the laws that govern us. As part of this, all children must have the opportunity to grow up to be happy, healthy, and successful adults no matter the color of their skin. We began as a state with this value at our core, and it is the one that guides all of the work we do at Voices for Children.

When looking at the data and research on Nebraska’s children and families a much harsher reality is uncovered – one of disparity and lack of equitable chance of future success and opportunity. This disparity is seen in each of Voices for Children’s five issue areas – health, education, child welfare, juvenile justice and economic stability. Even beyond our obligation to ensure every child has a chance to reach their full potential, addressing these disparities and closing these gaps would mean a more prosperous Nebraska for generations to come.

In 2014, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the Race for Results Index. With this index, we were able to see a mathematical representation of the disparity in opportunity among five racial groups. The Race for Results report was the impetus for much of Voices’ work in addressing systemic racial inequities through policy advocacy since its release and led to the creation of our own Index of Race & Opportunity for this year’s Kids Count commentary.

Casey’s Race for Results Index provided a powerful tool to compare and contrast opportunity for children by race within a state and the nation as a whole. Because much data is not available at the national level or not comparable between states, we found the index fell short – especially in the issue areas of child welfare and juvenile justice. With that in mind, Voices for Children created our own index, using the same methodology as the Race for Results Index, but with our own set of indicators. This allows us to better represent the issue areas we work in – health, education, child welfare, juvenile justice and economic stability – and include six races:

  1. White, non-Hispanic
  2. Black/African American
  3. American Indian
  4. Asian
  5. Hispanic
  6. Two or more races

Our Index of Race & Opportunity was derived from Annie E. Casey’s Race for Results Index and the KIDS COUNT DATA BOOK, and uses much of the same methodology. Thirteen indicators of future success were selected by Voices for Children, providing a positive overview of the pathway to opportunity. Indicators were chosen based on their ability to predict future health, success and overall well-being, as well as their proxy power – the indicators strength in representing the general direction and central importance of a variety of similar indicators. The indicators include:

1.Children with health insurance coverage
2.Infants receiving adequate prenatal care
3. 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school
4. Reading proficiently at 3rd grade
5. 16-24-year-olds employed or attending school
Economic Stability
6. Children living above the Federal Poverty Level
7. Median family income
8. Children living in a low-poverty areas
Child Welfare
9. Children not involved in the child welfare system
10. Children who are wards of the state, but are living at home
11. Children who are living in out-of-home care, but have done so in 3 or fewer placements
Juvenile Justice
12. Youth who have completed a diversion program successfully
13. Youth who have completed probation successfully

All indicators are from publicly available data, and are ones that are already included within the annual Kids Count in Nebraska Report. In order to compute the index the following steps were taken:
1.Standardization of data indicators to percentages or rates– this was necessary to account for data variability and to provide different indicators the same weights.
2.Scaling using z-scores – this allows data to be represented in a clearer way by providing a 0-100 scale.

By using these steps a value was assigned for each indicator. The racial group with the highest percentage or rate would receive a score of 100 while the lowest would receive a score of zero. After the score was computed for each indicator they were then averaged to create the overall Index of Race & Opportunity score. The higher the score, the greater the likelihood that children in that racial group are meeting the important milestones on the pathway to success and the systems and policies that touch their lives are not causing unintentional harm. No one group of children has a perfect score.

Over the coming weeks this series will examine the data in each of the 5 issue areas to begin to understand the disparities facing our children of color in Nebraska and then end with the final overall scores for each of the race/ethnicity groups as well as Voices for Children’s recommendation on how Nebraska can ensure The Good Life for our greatest natural resource: our children.


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