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Parents' language issues hurt immigrant kids, study says

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Los Altos -

Children of immigrants must often navigate the nation's complex health and education systems alone because of their parents' poor English skills, according to a report to be released today by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The report recommends that schools and community-based organizations provide literacy programs and support groups to help these children and their parents. It was published in the foundation's twice-yearly journal, the Future of Children.

Journal editor Margie Shields said immigrants and their children account for a growing percentage of the nation's population. "They're going to be the workforce and the future of the country, so it's important that we not close our eyes to their needs," Shields said.

The study says 18 percent of U.S. children overall speak a language other than English at home. Twenty-six percent of children of immigrants live in households where no one age 14 or older speaks English well.

Among the study's key findings:

-- Youths from ethnic minority and immigrant families are less likely to have regular access to health care than white children.

-- Parents with limited English emigrating from regions such as Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and Asia tend to be poorly educated and have limited job prospects.

-- Twenty-one percent of children in immigrant families live in poverty, compared with 14 percent of children in U.S.-born families.

-- Thirty-five percent of Mexican immigrant children are enrolled in an early education program at age 4. Latino children also have the highest chance of not graduating from high school.

The report was compiled using U.S. census data. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, based in Los Altos, was created in 1964 by David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co.

E-mail Jason B. Johnson at jbjohnson@sfchronicle.com

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