Children of Color Face Greater Barriers to Realizing Their Potential

Children of color face greater barriers to realizing their potential, according to a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children.

A child’s ability to realize his or her potential is largely shaped by her experiences from birth to age eight. That’s because how a child develops is not predetermined; it is a dynamic, interactive process that thrives when children have good health, strong families and quality learning and school experiences. These early years are so defining that by the time children turn eight, their third grade outcomes can predict future academic achievement and career success.

Race for Results finds that African-American, Latino and American Indian children are less likely to have the opportunities needed to meet critical milestones and realize their potential. North Carolina’s results mirror the national trend with White and Asian/Pacific Islander children faring significantly better than their racial and ethnic minority peers. The findings are based on 12 indicators that suggest whether children are succeeding in each stage of life and are on a path to economic success.

In bringing the barriers to light, AECF hopes to generate a national conversation that acknowledges today’s children of color bear the repercussions of historic policies, and focuses on defining a path forward.

Race/EthnicityUnited StatesNorth Carolina
African American345346
American Indian387364
Asian/Pacific Islander776746



The Race for Results Index is based on 12 indicators that measure a child’s success in different stages of life. The indicators were informed by the Social Genome Project, which has researched and identified benchmarks that are good predictors for later economic success.

  • Babies born at normal birthweight
  • Children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in nursery school, preschool or kindergarten
  • Fourth graders who scored at or above proficient in reading
  • Eighth graders who scored at or above proficient in math
  • Females ages 15 to 19 who delay childbearing until adulthood
  • High school students graduating on time
  • Young adults 19 to 26 who are in school or working
  • Young adults ages 25 to 29 who have completed an associate’s degree or higher
  • Children who live with a householder who has at least a high school diploma
  • Children who live in two-parent families
  • Children who live in families with incomes at or above 200% of poverty
  • Children who live in low-poverty areas (poverty <20%)

For information on how the results were compiled, read the Race for Results Index Methodology.

Broader Context

The findings come on top of several recent studies identifying disturbing trends for children of color. In January, researchers reported that preschool teachers viewed black children’s imaginary play negatively, while similar pretend play by white and Latino children was viewed positively. The study, Through race-colored glasses: Preschoolers’ pretend play and teachers’ ratings of preschooler adjustment was published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly and summarized in Education Week.

A study released last month on school discipline, showed that black children are suspended at disproportionate rates as early as preschool. While black children make up 18 percent of preschoolers, they account for almost half of all suspensions. And across age groups, black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended. In North Carolina, black students are more likely than others to be suspended for first-time infractions including cell phone use, dress code infractions, and public displays of affection. (Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School)

Challenge for the Future

What do these numbers mean for children, and what do they mean for our nation? Let’s start with the latter. The Census projects that by 2018 children of color will be the majority.  In North Carolina, this is already the case for Mecklenburg County. (For more about North Carolina’s changing demographics, view Dr. James Johnson’s presentation, Disruptive Demographics.)

By 2030 the majority of the labor force will be people of color. The Race for Results report notes, “The price of letting any group fall behind, already unacceptably high, will get higher. McKinsey & Company researchers found that if the United States had closed the racial achievement gap and African-American and Latino student performance had caught up with white students by 1998, the gross domestic product in 2008 would have been up to $525 billion higher.”

For children, it means that a significant number of our youngest citizens do not have the experiences needed to build a strong foundation for learning and life success.  Child development is a dynamic, interactive process that is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. Children need good health, strong families and quality learning and school experiences for optimal development.

Recommended Actions

Three actions you can take now:

  1. Use disaggregated data to inform decision-making and as a starting point for community conversations. KidsCount is an excellent resource for disaggregated data. It has state- and county-level data for more than 100 measures of child well-being. NC Child is North Carolina’s KidsCount organization. The Department of Public Instruction provides assessment outcomes by race and ethnicity by district and by school at Start local partnerships and The North Carolina Partnership for Children can provide data by race and ethnicity for each county on how children birth to five are faring in several areas, including the quality of child care they are attending, infant mortality, and access to early intervention services.
  2. Apply an equity lens to your work. Even if you are not a grant making organization, Grant Making with a Racial Equity Lens is a useful resource.
  3. Share data using an equity lens. See the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s publication titled Advancing Better Outcomes for All Children: Reporting Data Using A Racial Equity Lens.