A third of Floyd County kids are living in poverty; local rate higher than state, national averages

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2013 Ranking of Child, Family Well-Being

Carol Willis
Carol Willis

A high poverty rate is the biggest challenge that children and families are facing in Floyd County now, according to data recently released by the 2015 Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“What really sticks out is the poverty and all the issues that stem from that,” said Carol Willis, executive director of the Rome-Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth. “I think we are doing a lot and we have so many agencies working together, but it is a challenge.”

The commission is one of many agencies across the state that work through the Georgia Family Connection Partnership to focus on children’s well-being, Willis said.

“Georgia has the largest collaborative network of any state,” she added. “In every county there is an agency that serves children.”

Willis said this is part of why she believes that Georgia’s overall ranking is moving up. This year, Georgia is 40th in the nation — up from 42 last year — when it comes to children’s and families’ well-being. The data ranks on four components: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

While the data does not rank counties within Georgia, it does show that Floyd has a 30.3-percent rate of children living in poverty, which is a troubling number, Willis said. It is significantly higher than the state rate of 26.7 percent and the nation’s rate of 22 percent.

“It means that a high percent of children have very few resources,” Willis said. “Overall, the state and Floyd County have shown great improvement, but there is a lot for us to focus on and keep working towards.”

The commission puts together a five-year plan, Willis said, to try to come up with ways that the community, agencies and individuals can make a difference.

“I think we all need to think about what we can do within our realm of influence,” she said.

Churches can try to focus on learning opportunities for parents so they can improve their parenting skills.

Also, church members can reach out to struggling families. Civic groups can support families and offer events that will help children and families thrive.

“Individuals can look around their neighborhoods or at work and see what can be done,” Willis added. “There are many ways we can support each other and be better influences on the children we meet.”

Society as a whole should slow down a bit, Willis said.

“We need to focus on families more,” she explained. “Grandparents, parents and children — it needs to be more about that. Schools already have huge responsibilities and are stretched to the limit.

“It is about us doing something, not everyone else.”

Floyd County is showing some new programs and initiatives that are making a difference, she added.

“The Hispanic Youth Collaborative started last year and it has had a lot of positive feedback,” said Willis.

The program, which was held in the fall of 2014, involved 12 local Hispanic families. The families met every Tuesday for seven weeks. The whole family came together for a dinner and then participated in training sessions for parents, teens and younger children.

“They came out stronger families,” Willis said. “This all came about because judges in juvenile court noticed a high percentage of Hispanic youths coming through the courts. I’ve had families ask us when it starts again.”

Willis said she hopes the program can expand in the coming years.

She also points to the annual Kids’ Night Out event — a reduced-price play at Rome Little Theatre for area children and their families. The event also raises funds for the commission.

“The one we just had was the best, especially in terms of participation,” she said. “It is a healthy environment and it promotes family.”

These programs and others — such as the new early learning center at Anna K. Davie Elementary School, the Exchange Club’s Family Resource Center and the Faith Coalition — are beacons of hope, Willis said.

“To see so many positive things happening that stem from so many people and agencies working together is encouraging,” she said.

Read the story on northwestgeorgianews.com.

Read the Georgia Family Connection Partnership release.

Georgia Family Connection is a statewide network with a Collaborative in all 159 counties.