Blacks pessimistic about children's future, poll finds

May 27, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- More than three out of four black adults say they are worried that their children or other young people they know will become victims of violence, according to a poll released yesterday by the Children's Defense Fund.

The poll, described by the CDF as one of the most comprehensive surveys ever undertaken to document the perceived prospects for black youngsters, reveals what pollsters and the defense fund call a startling level of pessimism about black children.

"The poll confirms that the black child crisis, one of the worst since slavery, is real," said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the CDF, a child advocacy group.

Black adults surveyed said that while problems such as poor educational opportunities and drug abuse were burdening their children, violence overshadowed all other concerns. In the poll, 77 percent of the adult respondents said they worried about their own children or children they know falling victim to violence.

But rather than becoming another measure of despair, Ms. Edelman said, the poll should serve as a call for social service organizations that work with children to collaborate.

Also, she said, the poll should lend urgency to proposals that she believes would benefit young people, including more gun-control legislation, funding for after-school programs, improved health care, better public schools and job-training programs.

"Without adequate investment in jobs for youths and parents, we can neither end violence nor welfare as we know it," she said. "We are determined to get this nation to stop imprisoning rather than educating and employing our young."

The poll, a national survey of 1,004 black adults and 421 black young people, is envisioned by the CDF as a tool to help mobilize people around children's issues and underline the need for the Black Community Crusade for Children, a nationwide effort that CDF is coordinating with other organizations around the country to better organize services for black youth who are deemed to be "at risk."

"The African-American community must take the responsibility for saving itself and helping the nation achieve fairness and opportunity," said Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women and a spokeswoman for the community crusade.

Ms. Edelman said the crusade will involve work on several fronts to combat the problems burdening black youth. Among other things, it will include training programs for young black leaders; educational, recreational and nutrition programs for children; and lobbying on crucial issues including health care and welfare reform.

"You can't reform the welfare system without jobs, without adequate health care, without adequate child care," Ms. Edelman said.

While the poll results generally repeated the litany of problems that beset poor black communities, they also revealed that the perceptions of black youth held by black adults often are more dire even than reality. For example, the poll found that:

* Two-thirds of black adults think that at least half of all black children will become teen-age parents.

* 62 percent think that at least half of black children will have their lives destroyed by drugs.

* 61 percent believe that half or more of black children will get into trouble with the law.

In each of those instances, the perceived problem is worse than the already grim reality, said CDF officials and pollsters who worked on the survey. Still, they said, the pessimism felt by black adults is a surprising fact in itself.

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