When it comes to ensuring an accurate count of the 2010 census, children play an important role.

To that end the U. S. Census Bureau has beefed up its efforts to reach communities with a campaign entitled “Children Count Too.” The initiative began last week and alerts households to their responsibility for counting infants and youngsters.

“Children ages 5 and under have traditionally been left out of the census count,” said Washington bureau spokeswoman Sylvia Ballinger. “But we are encouraging parents to be sure to fill out their census form and to include all of their children – even newborns.”

The census is a constitutional mandate that is conducted every 10 years and its goal is to provide the federal government an accurate head count of all people living in the United States.

Each year, for the next 10 years, the counts will enable states and communities to derive their fair share of benefits from more than $400 billion in federal funding.  The less people counted, the less resources for respective jurisdictions.

The census form itself is short, taking just 10 minutes to fill out. Its 10 questions query households on simple data such as how many people live in the home and their ethnicities.

But according to Census Bureau officials, it is particularly imperative that children be counted because many of the programs and services funded by federal allocations concern their well being.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said people often express surprise  upon learning children are routinely undercounted.

“The first is that the adult groups that tend to be undercounted also tend to have more children in their homes . . .  and there has been evidence that the adults filling out the census questionnaire tend to forget babies and very young children,” Groves said via his blog on the 2010 Census Web site.  “Secondly, this might be due to the misconception that the census is designed more to record adults than young children.”

Groves further stated that if newborns aren’t included in the current count which launches this week, by the time the 2020 census rolls around those same children will have been essentially invisible until they reached the fifth grade.

Ballinger said her agency recently partnered with Nickelodeon to produce a television spot featuring Dora the Explorer, the popular children’s character on the network’s award-winning animated preschool series.

“There are several other partners that are using the campaign we created as well as a fact sheet to ensure that children are being counted,” Ballinger said. “We have also recorded public service announcements in English and Spanish that are going to be running on Nickelodeon, and we’re going to be distributing the PSAs to all the radio stations as well.”  

The census also helps when it comes to funding, constructing and renovating schools.  Therefore, the bureau has also created the “Census in the Schools 2010: It’s About Us” program that provides educators with resources to teach the nation’s students about the importance of the census and help deliver that message to their families. 

Age-specific learning materials include maps displaying population counts and other demographic information as well as those that integrate census information with social studies and community participation. 

School officials are also encouraged to present assemblies that motivate students to go home and tell their parents to fill out the census form.

“We ask those school districts that are on board to designate a Census in Schools Day or a Census in Schools Week,” Ballinger said. “It’s all about the children and especially the children of immigrant families who we want to go to their parents and say, ‘Hey, Mommy and Daddy, the census is here; you need to fill out the form and you also need to count me.’”

Phil Pannell, a Ward 8 community activist, agreed.

“The important piece is to make sure that the heads of the household are including the children,” he said. “So you can never leave the children out in terms of the outreach approach.”

Pannell’s ward, which is represented by Councilman Marion Barry, has long had the distinction of being the poorest in the District. It, along with Wards 5 and 7 are the areas in the city which stand to gain the most from federal funds as many are earmarked for programs and services for underprivileged neighborhoods.

Pannell, president of the Congress Heights Community Association, said that over the past several weeks, organizations in his ward – which includes “hard-to reach residents” – as well as those in Anacostia and Congress Heights, have been focused conveying the importance of census participation. 

Some of the groups involved are distributing T-shirts alerting residents to be counted, according to Pannell.

“We even have materials such as census coloring books to get young kids involved,” Pannell said, adding, “Some of our promotional material is geared to children that they take home as reminders to their parents to have their households counted.”