Child well-being evaluated: Demand for social services climbs, Wilson Daily Times (8/7/10)
In North Carolina, the well-being of children has gradually improved over the past decade.
However a report issued recently by Action for Children North Carolina reveals the state is still lacking in a few areas.
The new Annie E. Casey Foundation "Kids Count" Data Book ranks North Carolina 37th in overall child well-being. Children in New Hampshire fared best, while Mississippi ranked at the bottom of the list.
The report released annually is a state-by-state comparison of 10 measures ranging from percent of low birth weight babies to infant mortality rates to percent of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment among others.
Indicators used to rank states are designed to reflect a developmental perspective on childhood and underscore the foundation's goal to build a world where pregnant women and newborns thrive; infants and young children receive the support they need to enter school prepared to learn; children succeed in school; adolescents choose healthy behaviors; and young people experience a successful transition into adulthood.
Nationally, five of the 10 indicators show conditions improved since 2000 but worsened on three indicators.
The survey tool for two indicators, the percent of teens not in school and not working and the percent of children in families where no parent works full-time year-round, was significantly changed in 2008. Therefore, data can't be compared to previous years.
Data for North Carolina shows a slight improvement in infant mortality, child death, teen death, teen birth rates and teens, ages 16 to 19, not in school and not high school graduates. But low birth weight babies, children in poverty, and children living in single-parent families worsened. The other two measures were not comparable with past years.
The entire report is based on data from either 2007 or 2008 before the recession began to impact most families.
Laila Bell, director of research and data with Action for Children North Carolina, urges people to use caution when determining the meaning behind this year's data set.
"The initial impact of the economic recession won't be revealed until the following report is released," Bell said. "But the fact we are already experiencing an increase in the number of children living in poverty is telling of what's to come."
While the full impact of the state's fiscal crisis remains unknown, Ron Hunt, Wilson County Department of Social Services public information officer, believes the situation will most likely worsen before it improves.
"Our services will always be needed as long as there is poverty, abuse, domestic violence and substance abuse," Hunt said. "But I do not see the current demand for our services decreasing any until economic conditions improve nationally and locally and families are able to work at a livable wage."
The latest report issued by Action for Children North Carolina indicates Wilson County experienced a decline in the number of children enrolled in regulated child care receiving subsidies from 2000 to 2005. However, Hunt said this is far from the case in the current economic climate.
"Children who apply to receive subsidies represent parents who are struggling to find quality child care arrangements so that they can work and focus on work while knowing their child is in a safe and structured environment," he said.
"We average anywhere from 300 to 500 children on our waiting lists at any given month," he added.
He also notes an increase in the number of abuse cases the department handles, as well as an increase in those seeking assistance through the department's Family and Children's Medicaid and Food and Nutrition services.
"This program has been a major indicator of the recession," he said of Food and Nutrition services.
Case loads have grown from 4,800 in 2007-2008 to 6,860 cases as of June 30.
"Many people can't afford to buy basic food items," he said. "This helps so many of our families and children receive good nutrition and not go hungry."
In addition to these services, Wilson County DSS offers Work First and Low Income Energy Assistance programs to those in need.