Journal Issue: Critical Health Issues for Children and Youth Volume 4 Number 3 Winter 1994
Barriers to Services
Although a large number of children who are impoverished, doing poorly in school, or are in poor health are non-Hispanic whites, these problems occur more frequently among children in most other broadly defined racial and ethnic groups.15 The low incomes and education levels of many nonwhite heads of families are likely important factors in the differential status of nonwhite children; however, cultural isolation and limited language skills may also present particular obstacles to children in certain ethnic groups.
One group of particular notice is the more than 2 million U.S. children who are foreign-born and the millions more who are the children of recent immigrants.16 Many of these children are part of the more than 6.3 million school-age children (14% of the U.S. population ages 5 to 17) who speak a non-English language at home.17 Approximately two-thirds of these children come from Spanish-speaking homes, and an important proportion of the remainder speak a variety of Asian languages. Children who speak a non-English language at home may be particularly challenged in relating to mainstream U.S. society. They may require special programs in preschool and school and may find that they are less able to rely on their families for help with homework and with accessing necessary services, such as health care. As they grow older, some may also be at a disadvantage in finding employment and making the transition to adulthood.
Even more constrained are those children who live in "linguistically isolated" house-holds. These are households in which no member age 14 or older speaks English at least "very well." Nationwide, 4% of children ages 5 to 17 live in such households.16
Immigrants and their children tend to cluster in certain parts of the country. California, Texas, and New York are homes for almost two-thirds of all foreign-born children. As illustrated in Figure 3, children who do not speak English at home, immigrant children, and the children of recent immigrants, are concentrated in these states and in New Mexico, Arizona, New Jersey, and Florida.
The concentration of immigrant children and the native-born children of recent immigrants in certain geographic areas can have both desirable and undesirable consequences.
Concentration may facilitate the delivery of specialized culturally and linguistically appropriate services. Such services may be difficult or expensive to deliver to small population groups or in areas where providers with appropriate training or backgrounds are rare. On the other hand, the demand for a full complement of specialized services may be perceived as particularly burdensome by state and local governments and by their taxpayers. Recent attempts by the states of California and Florida to receive additional financial assistance and other relief from the federal government to help cope with the demands placed on state service delivery systems by legal and illegal immigrants are evidence of the perceived burdens placed on state and local governments by immigrant populations and their children.18