Celebrating Hispanic Heritage with a New Research Focus

April 30th is El Día de los Niños in the United States, a time to celebrate children. Reflecting our tendency to adapt great ideas from other countries, this day has its roots in Mexico’s El Día del Niño, but has expanded in the U.S. to include a focus on the importance of reading for children’s success in school and in life.

Here at Child Trends, we have another reason to celebrate El Día de los Niños – the 17.6 million Latino children in the U.S. Today, a quarter (24 percent) of children under age 18 in the U.S. are Hispanic; by 2050, demographers project that 36 percent of U.S. children will be of Hispanic origin. More broadly, Latinos are the largest racial/ethnic minority in the U.S. They are a recognized economic, electoral, and cultural force, and their influence will continue to grow in the coming decades. Yet, knowledge of this population is limited, especially knowledge of the strengths and diversity of Hispanic children and families, and the challenges they face.

While data indicate that Latino families possess many strengths that benefit their children—such as a high percentage of babies that are breastfed (which leads to better long term health outcomes), and families that routinely eat meals together—Hispanic children and youth also face many challenges to their educational and economic success. Hispanic teens are more likely to drop out of high school and to have a baby than any other racial/ethnic group. Nearly two-thirds of Latino children are living either in poverty or in low-income households – more than twice the percentage of children in non-Hispanic white households.

For many groups of children in the U.S., there is already substantial research to inform the nation’s thinking and guide our investments. This is less true for Hispanic children and youth, and this gap hinders our ability to invest wisely in their development and advance their prospects. At Child Trends, we want to help close that knowledge gap.

For 35 years, we have been the nation’s most trusted resource for rigorous research and reliable data on children and youth. We have developed data on key aspects of children’s lives and promoted the use of those data in policymaking. We are leaders in building the evidence base of “what works” to improve outcomes for children and youth. And we communicate knowledge clearly and compellingly to policymakers and service providers.

Additionally, Child Trends, alone among the nation’s leading child-study centers, has a platform from which we are already addressing some of the serious challenges and opportunities facing Latino children and families today. Our work includes evaluating programs and approaches intended to promote school success, both in the early childhood years and among children in the K-12 system; developing programs to reduce teen pregnancy in the Latino community; and analyzing and explaining critical racial and ethnic disparities across a range of child outcomes.

On June 11, 2014, we will launch the Child Trends Hispanic Institute to provide timely, research-based information and guidance to improve outcomes for Latino children and youth in the U.S. Our Institute will serve as a resource to organizations and individuals whose work affects the well-being of Hispanic children and families in the U.S., including policymakers and public administrators, program practitioners, the media, corporate leaders, and private philanthropy.

Please visit our website on June 11 to see the first products of the Child Trends Hispanic Institute, and to learn more about our plans to improve the nation’s understanding of Latino children and their families.

In the meantime, in honor of El Día de los Niños, share a book with a child.

Carol Emig, president