2013-02-07 / Community

County ranks 44th in kids count data

Annual report shows well-being of kids

MANISTIQUE – Schoolcraft County ranked 44th of 82 counties for overall child well-being in the latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book. The report, released annually since 1992, ranks counties on the overall status of child well- being using 13 of 15 indicators.

This year, eight of the 15 indicators of child well-being showed worsening trends.

“We clearly see a connection between higher-income communities and better out- comes for kids, but even in more affluent counties, child poverty and the need for food assistance jumped dramatically,’’ said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy. “No area of the state escaped worsening conditions for children when it comes to economic security.”

Child poverty in Schoolcraft County increased 15 percent over the trend period, compared with a statewide jump of 28 percent. The rate of young children in the county qualifying for food assistance increased 21 percent, compared with a statewide increase of 55 percent. The period covered in the book is generally 2005 to 2011.

The rate of confirmed victims of abuse and neglect, linked to poverty, more than doubled in the county compared with a statewide increase of 28 percent.

Statewide, the biggest improvements were the decline of kids in foster care, decreasing from 17,000 in 2005 to 11,000 in 2011, and a drop in fourth-graders not proficient in reading from 40 percent to 32 percent of test-takers in the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

Statewide, mortality rates for infants fell by 8 percent between 2005 and 2010 while the death rate for children/youth ages 1-19 declined 11 percent.

Schoolcraft County ranked 10th in students not graduating on time, with 14 percent of high school students not graduating on time, compared with nearly 26 percent statewide. The county’s poorest performance was in less than adequate prenatal care, with nearly 41 percent of mothers receiving poor care, compared with 30 percent statewide.

The annual Data Book is released by the Kids Count in Michigan project. It is a collaboration between the Michigan League for Public Policy (formerly the Michigan League for Human Services), which researches and writes the report, and Michigan’s Children, which works with advocates statewide to disseminate the findings. Both are nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organizations concerned about the well-being of children and their families.

“The release of this critical report is the start of a conversation. Each year, the data point clearly to programs and policies to improve the lives of all children, youth and families in Michigan,’’ said Michele Corey, interim president and CEO of Michigan’s Children. “Recently elected public officials have the opportunity to impact the future of our state by committing to these recom- mended policy changes and others proven to make a difference to child outcomes.”

Policy recommendations to improve conditions included the following:

- Maintain public systems and structures that help families withstand the weak economic recovery by restoring state unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks and the state Earned Income Tax Credit from 6 percent to 20 percent of the federal credit, and raising eligibility and adjusting the sliding scale for child care subsidies.

- Address health inequities by improving the health and wellbeing of children in low- income and communities of color, eliminating the causes of high teen homicide rates in African American communities, and supporting the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

- Invest in prevention by supporting evidence-based programs to prevent teen pregnan- cies, services to families to prevent child abuse and neglect and early childhood care and education.

- Improve education opportunities by reducing class sizes in early grades.

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