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A village can’t replace two parents

Hillary Clinton said, “It takes a village” to raise a child. Look at children referred to Clark County Juvenile Justice Services, however, and it’s clear a village can’t replace two parents.

In 2017, 63 percent of Nevada children lived in a married-couple household. But just 14 percent of the youths referred to juvenile justice came from intact families.

Twenty-six percent of Nevada children lived in mother-only households in 2017, but they made up 45 percent of the children referred to juvenile justice. Interestingly, 10 percent of Nevada children live in father-only households, but those kids account for just 7 percent of juvenile referrals.

The biggest disparity comes from children living without either biological parent. That represented 6 percent of Nevada’s children, who constituted 24 percent of juvenile justice referrals.

The family living arrangement information comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center. Clark County-specific figures weren’t available. The Juvenile Justice Services 2017 Statistical Report provided referral data.

What’s happening in Clark County is hardly an anomaly. Numerous studies have found that children living in married households are healthier, much less likely to live in poverty, go to better schools and engage in fewer riskier behaviors.

While the government can’t force people to stay married, this context should inform policy debates.

Consider the Clark County School District and its revamped discipline policy. Superintendent Jesus Jara is concerned that minority students are more likely to receive discipline. African-Americans, for instance, are 13 percent of the student population. They received 50 percent of the referrals for things such as suspensions and expulsions.

Asked in an editorial board meeting if he thought the district would have fewer disciplinary incidents if all the students were white, Jara wouldn’t answer. It shouldn’t be hard to say district teachers aren’t closet racists.

The data make more sense when you consider that factors outside of race shape children dramatically. Nationally, just 36 percent of African-American children live in married-parent households. The African-American poverty rate is almost three times the rate of white Americans. Given those risk factors, it would be unexpected if the discipline rate for black students weren’t disproportionately higher.

The most effective way to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline or increase student achievement isn’t money. It’s encouraging parents to get and stay married.

Much of that work is cultural. Marriage isn’t just one of many family options. It’s the absolute best environment for children. That’s not to say someone should stay in an abusive relationship or to disparage single parents, who have one of the hardest jobs in the world.

But societal leaders should tout the benefits of marriage for children. Rich people are already practicing this, as seen in census data. Among households earning more than $100,000 a year, almost 90 percent of children have married biological parents. In households earning under $25,000 a year, that number is under 24 percent.

Government officials can’t ignore the problems caused by broken marriages. Efforts such as The Harbor, a partnership by local government agencies to connect troubled youths to groups that can help meet their specific needs, are good. But the best thing the village can do for children is to encourage prospective parents to get and stay married.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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