RILN Opinion+: Stephanie Geller

Belen Dumont


Welcome to another episode of Rhode Island Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the community.

This week we spoke with Deputy Director Stephanie Geller of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT about youth homelessness, children’s mental health, and educational support for multilingual learners within Rhode Island. 

RI Kids Count is a nonprofit organization based in Providence that has served children, youth, and their families across the Ocean State since 1994. 

Deputy Director Geller first discussed RI Kids Count’s research and efforts to support children and youth experiencing poverty & homelessness across the state.

RI Kids Count published a report this fall that shared data on poverty, income, and health insurance coverage throughout the state. 

Last April, Rhode Island was declared to be in a state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health care. Geller spoke on RI Kids Counts’ recommended steps—published in this report—to address the issue, which included addressing the workforce crisis.

“We’re seeing long waiting lists for a lot of different social services including mental health because we don’t have enough of mental health providers because we’re not adequately paying them,” Geller explained. “So, we really need to look at those fees and make sure we provide adequate payment so that we can have access to more providers in our communities.”

The same report by RI Kids Count found that youth of color were more likely to have their mental health impacted by the pandemic and they were much less likely to receive mental health treatment. 

“One barrier is that there’s a lack of culturally competent and linguistically competent providers so we need to provide access points for more diverse mental health providers to enter the field and for us to provide mental health providers [who] speak all languages that children and families need access to,” Geller said.

Rhode Island’s Hispanic child population grew by 31% between 2000 and 2010, according to a 2021 report by RI Kids Count: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Children’s Economic Well-Being in Rhode Island. 

“We really need to look at diversity as an asset but we also need to be aware of the disparities we see in children’s economic well-being, educational outcomes, etc. by race and ethnicity and really be honest about the reasons for those disparities and then try to topple them,” Geller said.

Geller also discussed the importance of looking at access to college and generally supporting multilingual students as the state has seen lower rates of high school graduation for multilingual learners than primarily-English speakers.

“Only 23% of Latino students in the class of 2021 went directly to college, compared to 46% of white students,” Geller shared. “So, we really need to think about giving people the financial opportunities, and the guidance cousel[ing] they need, and providing them the support if they’re learning English…so they can succeed because we know education is the primary way out of poverty for many families.”

Resources mentioned in this video: