Georgia Drops in KIDS COUNT Ranking State—Now 42nd in Nation in Child Well-Being

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The overall health and well-being of Georgia’s children is among the worst in the United States. This is according to the 2009 KIDS COUNT Data Book, a national and state-by-state report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Georgia ranks 42nd in the nation, slipping from 40 th in the 2008 report.

Georgia ranks below the national average on nine of the 10 main indicators, and is in the bottom 10 states on five:

  • 46 th in the percentage of high-school dropouts
  • 44 th in the percentage of low-birthweight babies and in the percentage of youth not in school and not working
  • 43 rd in the percentage of children living in single-parent families
  • 42 nd in the infant mortality rate

The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, now in its 20th year, has ranked Georgia in the bottom tier every year since 1990.

“It may not always be good news, but we need to see where we’ve been so we don’t move blindly forward,” said Gaye Morris Smith, executive director of Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP), the Georgia KIDS COUNT grantee.  “We can ignore the report because we don’t like what it tells us, or use it to guide us toward better decisions in the way we use our limited resources.”

Georgia’s highest national rankings (26th) were the child death rate for children 1-14, and the percentage of children under 18 living in families without secure parental employment.

“Trends have shown that investing in human capital—our children and families—and sustaining those investments, reap invaluable returns,” said Smith. “Georgia is the only state in the nation with a statewide network of collaborative organizations to implement this data tool at the state level and, most importantly, at the local level. Almost every county in the state has adopted one of the ten national KIDS COUNT indicators based on community assessments. Our experience tells us that with focus comes dialogue, followed by awareness, intent, resources and sustainability, which is what it takes to improve outcomes.”

State and national trend data for the past 20 years show the population of Georgia continues to grow and diversify; that Georgia’s children fare worse than most of the nation in a strong economy, and even worse during economic downturns; and that there is an economic and educational disparity between whites and minorities.

Georgia has had a consistently higher rate of babies born low birthweight than the national average. In 2006, 9.6 percent of all births in Georgia were low-birthweight babies, up from 8.6 percent in 2000. The national average was 8.3 percent, the highest since 1968.

The study also showed that one in five children in Georgia lived in poverty in 2007, and the percentage of children living in poverty has increased 11 percent since 2000. While the high-school dropout rate in Georgia has decreased 38 percent since 2000, Georgia’s 10 percent rate in 2007 lags behind the national average of 7 percent and is the second highest percentage in America.

“The research is irrefutable. Students living in low-income families are much more likely to drop out of high school in any given year,” said Stephen D. Dolinger, Ed.D., president of Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.  “This fact alone is alarming enough, but the relating societal issues—higher crime rates, negative health outcomes, and increased social services costs, not to mention a lack of private sector investment in impoverished areas—plague many Georgia communities. We must be committed and tireless in using every available resource to lessen the impacts of poverty and decrease our drop-out rates.”

This year’s KIDS COUNT Data Book calls for a “data revolution” to track progress and improve lives of vulnerable children. The 2009 essay, “Counting What Counts,” looks at the country’s progress in keeping track of children’s well-being, measuring the impact of public programs, and holding ourselves accountable for improving their futures.

“Georgia is at a tipping point,” said Smith. “We need to be strategic in investing in our children even though the current fiscal crisis makes this more challenging than ever.”

Like Georgia, North Carolina had been at the tipping point. Our neighbor has not only jumped out of the bottom tier, but is sustaining its position. This year’s report ranks North Carolina 37 th in the nation. Barbara Bradley, president and CEO of Action for Children, the North Carolina KIDS COUNT grantee, credits her state’s success with consistent investment and focus on evidence-based programming. “The state of North Carolina has done the right thing,” she said.

“We are all accountable,” said Smith. “By ‘we’ I mean concerned citizens, child and family advocates, business and community leaders who want to attract industry, and local and state officials who are charged with ensuring the safety and prosperity of our state for future generations. With that mandate, our policymakers must use the tools available to them to keep the 20-year trend of poor outcomes for Georgia’s families from repeating itself.”

Read the 2009 Georgia KIDS COUNT Fact Sheet.

For interactive statewide Georgia KIDS COUNT data, visit www.gafcp.org/kidscount.

Contact:
William Valladares
Communications Coordinator
404-527-7394 (x114)

[email protected]