Georgia recently climbed off the bottom in an annual national ranking of children’s well-being.
But at 37th among the 50 states, the Peach State still has nothing to brag about in the latest KIDS COUNT Data Book.
New Hampshire and Massachusetts topped the 2012 list. At the bottom were New Mexico and Mississippi. Georgia was 42nd on the list last year and has never been higher than 39 until this year.
“I’m glad that Georgia is up to 37, but I’m sorry we’re at only 37, and there’s obviously a lot of work to come,” said Tim Johnson, executive director of Whatever it Takes, an Athens community organization that aims to improve graduation rates and other measures of well-being for Clarke County children.
“It’s great to get out of the basement, but we can’t be satisfied. We’ve got to use this ranking of 37 to motivate us, to mobilize, not slipping, and continuing to make gains,” said Gaye Smith, executive director of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership. The public-private partnership aims to improve conditions for children and families in the state.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book includes data on the dozens of measures relevant to children’s well-being and breaks them down to the county level.
But the rankings are based on 16 key factors, such as teen pregnancy rates, low birth weight babies, graduation rates, children living in one-parent households, school achievement scores and the number of children without health insurance. Then the data gets divided into four broad categories. Georgia ranked 38th in education and 37th in family and community well-being.
The state’s worst measure was economic. Ranking 43rd, a quarter of the state’s children live in poverty, and the state unemployment rate in 2010 stood at 9.9 percent.
But Georgia was almost average in health, with a ranking of 30, which was helped in part by the state’s worsening economic conditions.
In 2006, about 1.1 million Georgia children were enrolled in Medicaid or PeachCare, a health insurance program for children funded partly by the state but mostly by the federal government.
After the economic downturn, the federal government put more money into the program and changed eligibility standards so that more children could participate, and as of 2010, about 1.6 million Georgia children were covered, according to the report.
Looking at a longer time line, Georgia has actually made big strides, said Johnson and Smith.
In the early 1990s, Georgia ranked as low as 49 on the list. That ranking prompted then-Gov. Zell Miller to call together his agency heads and start devising strategies to improve the lot of the state’s children, Smith said.
Georgia has greatly improved in some of the child well-being measures since then, but so have other states.
According to the data count numbers, the birth rate among teens 15-19 was about 41.2 in 2010, down from 66.8 in 1996.
The state recorded 39,117 substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect in 2006. That number was down to 20,675 in 2010.
Child abuse and neglect cases declined even more drastically in Clarke County, according to the statistics.
A few years ago, Clarke agencies started trying new ways of dealing with neglect and abuse, involving parents more in devising ways to change those behaviors, Johnson said. Some of those techniques are now being used statewide, he said.
But poverty might be the main issue now.
According to the report, 25 percent of Georgia’s children live in poverty, up from 20.3 percent in 2006. In Athens-Clarke County, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States for a community its size, 35.6 percent of children were living in poverty in 2010, up from 27.9 percent four years earlier.
“Obviously, there’s a strong correlation between poverty and poor health outcomes and poor education outcomes,” Johnson said.
But poverty doesn’t have to doom children to poor health and poor educational attainment, he said.
“It’s a very important consideration, but it can’t be allowed to be an excuse for not being successful,” he said.
The full report, including state and county data, can be viewed online at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/DataBook/2012/.
For interactive statewide data, visit Georgia KIDS COUNT at gafcp.org/kidscount.
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