By Elizabeth Friend
North Carolina ranks low for child welfare, according to a new report released Tuesday. Laila Bell is the director of research and data at NC Child. She says North Carolina’s modest economic recovery is doing little to help those who need the most.
“When you look at the data you see that North Carolina ranks 35th in the country for overall child well-being, but we also find that North Carolina children and families are really being left behind,” says Bell.
A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation uses census data to compare measures of child welfare from state to state. North Carolina now has the 11th highest poverty rate in the nation. What’s more, the data shows three out of four economic indicators have worsened since 2008. One in four children now live in poverty, a 25 percent increase. One in three children live in families who struggle to afford the cost of housing or where parents lack secure employment.
Financial hardships plague many families in North Carolina, and Bell says that puts a generation of children at risk.
“When children grow up in poverty, they experience a number of challenges and barriers that affect their readiness to learn and their opportunities to complete high school and go on to post-secondary education,” says Bell. “They have poorer health outcomes; they experience more difficulty when they try to transition into the workforce as an adult; they’re more likely to grow up in communities that lack the types of resources and support that can promote healthy growth and development.”
She says policies that increase access to early childhood education, keep parents in the workforce, and help provide a financial cushion for families are key to lifting communities out of poverty.
According to Bell, North Carolina’s declines are driven in part by policy decisions at the state level.
“State and federal policies like the child tax credit or the earned income tax credit can really help low-wage working families stretch tight budgets, but unfortunately in North Carolina we saw the earned income tax credit was allowed to sunset, so that’s a financial boost that our families no longer have, despite the fact that they’re struggling with economic challenges.”
Despite the sobering statistics, Bell says there are a few bright spots.
“We saw some improvement in the health indicator, in fact all four of those indicators improved,” says Bell. “We can really point back to things like North Carolina’s investment in our state children’s health insurance program and Medicaid that have helped increased children’s access to health insurance and that’s a public policy success that has had a very big impact on outcomes for our kids.”
Still, she notes that these are lagging indicators. She says advances in child health and education benchmarks are the result of investments made years ago.
“In education and health, seven out of eight of those indicators are moving in the right direction and we know what’s really driving that momentum: we’re reaping the benefits and the returns of previous investments in evidence-based public policies and programs.”
Another bright spot, says Bell, is that some local communities are stepping up to address the challenge of childhood poverty.
“In several different parts of the state, there are local task forces looking at issues like poverty and economic opportunity with a lens towards what they can do at the local level to help increase opportunity for kids and their families. We’re encouraged by that progress.”
In Orange County, a coalition of social service agencies has formed the Family Success Alliance to help impoverished children. County Commissioners also voted to extend childcare subsidies cut by the state. Bell says these types of policies can make a big difference for working families.
You can find the full report here.