Life still tough for too many kids

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by Dusty Nix

The latest edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report on the state of American children, was released this week. As we’ve come to expect, the numbers for Georgia and Alabama are again pretty dismal.

The news is not unrelievedly bleak. Both states showed improvement in some areas, especially Alabama. But both still rank in the bottom 10 among the 50 U.S. states in an overall assessment of child well-being.

The Data Book report ranks states on the basis of 16 indicators related to the general areas of economic well-being, education, health and family stability.

Bill Valladares of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership notes that the economic indicators for the state’s children are on the rise in terms of child poverty, housing and parental employment.

The best health statistic for Georgia is a dramatic 37 percent reduction in teen births, from 41 per 1,000 in 2010 to 26 per 1,000 in 2015, the latest year for which complete statistics are available. That’s a trend that bodes well on multiple levels.

But other child health figures are far more somber. The 2015 percentage of low birthweight babies in Georgia is virtually unchanged from 2010, and at 9.5 percent is alarmingly higher than the national average of 8.1.

The closures of rural hospitals in Georgia, and the trend of fewer hospitals offering prenatal or obstetric services, can’t help: “If [expectant mothers] don’t go to public health, if they don’t have birthing hospitals, then we have higher risk factors,” Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, chief of neonatology at the Medical College of Georgia, told the Augusta Chronicle.

Alabama came in even lower—44th—but, ironically, with overall better news. For starters, it improved two spots from last year’s 46th. Far more impressive (and important) is that the state improved in 11 of the Data Book’s 16 indicators, including all of the economic indicators, according to the nonprofit Voices for Alabama’s Children: “Fewer children are in poverty, have parents without secure employment and live in households with a high housing cost burden than they did in 2010. Only seven percent of teens are not in school and not working, compared to 11 percent in 2010.”

Voices policy and research director Rhonda Mann told Esther Ciammachilli of Alabama Public Radio that a major factor is the state’s high rate of child health coverage: “Alabama came in with only three percent of children not being covered with some type of health insurance. We rank fifth in the nation.”

But Mann is also not sugar-coating the reality that child welfare in this part of the country is still in dire straits.

“It’s a good report for Alabama, but the reality is we ranked 44th in the nation in overall child well-being,” Mann told the Opelika-Auburn News. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re not ignoring that at all.”

None of us should be.

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