Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TOP STORY >> Arkansas children still suffer more

Leader staff writer

Even though substantial improvements were made to the lives of Arkansas teens, the state only moved up one position — 47th — for overall child well-being this year, according to the 2011 Kids Count Data Book.

Factors that showed gains in the lives of teens statewide included more teens in school and graduating, fewer “idle” teens and fewer teenage births.

The state jumped one place in its ranking on teenage births. The percent of teenage dropouts fell from 9 percent in 2008 to 7 percent for 2009. The number of “idle” teens, those not in school and not working, dropped two points from 10 percent in 2008.

Some of the indicators that determine the overall child well-being ranking are overall child poverty (27 percent for the state), the percentage of children in single-parent families, teenage births, low birth-weight babies, infant mortality rate, child death rate and teenage death rate.

Another indicator of child well-being is the number of children who receive free and reduced lunches at local schools. In the Pulaski County Special School District, 7,843 (44 percent) students received free lunch and 1,653 (9 percent) had reduced lunches during the second nine weeks of the 2010-11 school year.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Cabot School District had 3,633 students — 37.5 percent — eligible for free or reduced lunch for the 2009-10 school year. The Beebe School District had 1,521 — 47.7 percent for the same year.

Tara Manthey, communications director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said poverty was the most influential factor in the child well-being ranking for Arkansas.

“We will always have a low ranking in overall child well-being until we address poverty on different levels,” she said.

Manthey added that her organization would like to see individual cities fund high-quality after-school programs and see that children who eligible for services like ARkids and Arkansas Better Chance Preschool Program are actually receiving those services.

Arkansas could also address poverty by instituting an earned income tax credit modeled after the federal credit that helps working families pay for shelter and other things, she continued.

The most recent statistics for county-specific figures were recorded in 2009 and are available through the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families website, at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/Default.aspx?state=AR.

In Pulaski County, 23,681 (25.4 percent) children under 18 lived in poverty and 43.5 percent were in single-parent families.

The county had about the same as the state average 27 percent for child poverty and was a little higher than the state average of 38 percent for single-parent families.

In Lonoke County, 3,284 (18.3 percent) children under 18 lived in poverty and 30.8 percent were in single-parent families. Both were between eight and 10 points lower than the state average.

In White County, 4,088 children under 18 (22.5 percent) lived in poverty and 33.4 percent were in single-parent families. Both were within about five points of the state average.

Other figures are measured in rates per 100,000.

In Pulaski County, the rates were 58.5 for teenage births, 10.6 for low birth weight babies, 7.6 for infant mortality, 22.8 for child (ages 1 to 14) deaths and 79.9 for teenage (ages 15 to 19) deaths.

The rates were within 0.3 to 2 points of the state averages of 59 for teenage births, 8.9 for low weight babies, 7.3 for infant mortality and 22.1 for child deaths. The county’s rate for teenage deaths was more than 10 points higher than the state average of 63.7.

In Lonoke County, the rates were 45.7 for teenage births, 7.5 for low-birth weight babies, 6.7 for infant mortality, 21.2 for child deaths and 43.5 for teenage deaths. The rate for teenage births was more than 10 points lower than the state average and the teenage death rate was about 20 points lower than the state average. The other rates were within a few points of the state figures.

In White County, the rates were 54.3 for teenage births, 6.8 for low-birth weight babies, 6.8 for infant mortality, 34.8 for child deaths and 33.3 for teenage deaths. The county’s rates were a few points lower in most of the rates compared to the state averages.

The county’s rate for teenage deaths was about half that of the state and its rate for child deaths was about 10 points higher than the state’s rate.

New statistics on child deaths, teen deaths and infant mortality were delayed this year, so the state’s ranking in those areas is the same as last year. Several child-safety laws passed in the last few years may have a positive impact on those.

All three counties had a lower percentage of children living in poverty than the state average. Lonoke and White counties had a lower percentage of children who were in single-parent families compared to the state figure.