Georgia ranks low on child welfare, but not among worst

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By Lee Shearer

Georgia stayed out of the bottom 10 states for the second consecutive year in an annual national child welfare ranking.

Georgia ranked 38th among the 50 states, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2019 “Kids Count” rankings and data book. That’s one spot higher than last year’s ranking. In 2017, the foundation ranked Georgia No. 42, and in 1990, the first year for the ranking, Georgia stood at No. 48.

“We’ve made progress. We’re out of the 40s,” said Rebecca Rice, Georgia Kids Count manager at the Georgia Family Connection Partnership.

New Hampshire ranked first this year, followed by Massachusetts, Iowa and Minnesota. The lowest-ranking states are disproportionately in the nation’s southern tier, including No. 50 New Mexico, No. 49 Louisiana and No. 48 Mississippi.

The survey compares states on four kinds of measures related to children’s welfare — economic well-being, family and community, education and health.

Georgia ranked at No. 34 in children’s health, No. 38 for family and community, No. 40 in economic well-being, and No. 34 in education.

Each of the four broad ranking systems is based on four indicators, 16 in all. Indicators for economic well-being, for example, are the percent of children in poverty (21 percent for Georgia children in 2017, the latest year with data available), children whose parents lack secure employment (27 percent), children living in households with a high housing cost burden (31 percent) and teens not in school and not working (8 percent).

This year’s Kids Count report compares several of the 2017 statistics to those of 2010, when measures such as the number of children living in poverty were rising dramatically as the recession of 2008 took hold.

The percentage of Georgia children in poverty reached a 21st-century low of 17.8 percent in 2002, according to the Kids County database, then rose from 20.2 percent in 2008 to a peak of 27.3 percent in 2012 before gradually falling again the next several years, according to the Kids Count data.

Georgia did better compared to its 2010 scores on all but three of the 16 indicators, according to the latest report.

The levels of children in single-parent families (38 percent) was unchanged from 2010, as was the percent of young children ages 3 and 4 not in school at 50 percent.

Measured against last year and the year before rather than 2010, some measures are headed the wrong way. The percentage of children without health insurance actually went up from 6 percent to 7 percent.

It was the second year in a row that the percentage of children without health insurance increased in Georgia. That percent also went up nationwide, according to a separate study from Georgetown University.

It’s hard to say what’s causing the increase in uninsured children, Rice said. It in part could be under-enrollment in available state and federal sources.

“It’s not always super-easy to stay enrolled,” she said, and for the working poor, “it can be a difficult extra step.”

The percent of Georgia children in “housing burdened” households (paying a relatively high share of family income for housing) remains high at 30 percent, Rice noted.

The education measures show Georgia children’s achievement levels improving, but for the most part still lagging a little behind the rest of the country. Georgia does a little better than the rest of the country in the percent of 3- and 4-year-olds not in school — 50 percent in Georgia vs. 52 percent nationally.

Georgia is below average on the other education indicators, though improving. The percent of Georgia fourth-graders not proficient in reading dropped from 71 percent in 2009 to 65 percent in 2017, while the percent of eighth-graders not proficient in math decreased from 73 percent in 2009 to 69 percent in 2017.

About 19 percent of Georgia students did not graduate from high school on time, a big improvement from 33 percent in the 2010-11 school year.

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