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Published: Friday, 7/27/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Welfare of Ohio children lags others

State ranked 27th overall in nation; Lucas Co. poverty statistics high

BY CASEY SUMNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The well-being of Ohio's children is lagging behind other states, according to data on child welfare released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The figures released Wednesday rank Ohio 27th overall in the welfare of the nation's children, based on 16 indicators in the categories of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Michigan ranks 32nd. The well-being of Ohio's children is lagging behind other states, according to data on child welfare released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The figures released Wednesday rank Ohio 27th overall in the welfare of the nation's children, based on 16 indicators in the categories of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Michigan ranks 32nd.
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The well-being of Ohio's children is lagging behind other states, according to data on child welfare released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The figures released Wednesday rank Ohio 27th overall in the welfare of the nation's children, based on 16 indicators in the categories of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Michigan ranks 32nd.

The economic categories show the most serious decline in the well-being of children, with many of the changes appearing in tandem with the recession. The number of children in Ohio living in poverty increased by 20 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to the report, with a steep rise in 2009.

The figures are particularly stark for Lucas County. As of 2010, 29 percent of children in Lucas County were living in poverty, compared to 23 percent in Ohio and 22 percent nationally. The number of infants born at low birth weights, another indicator of public health, is 11 percent higher in Lucas County than in the rest of the state.

"When the breadwinners of the family lose their jobs, the kids go into poverty. We've seen an increase because of job loss in the state," said Pete Gerken, president of the Lucas County board of commissioners. "We are concerned about the number of children in poverty."

The information from the reports comes from the Kids Count Data Book, which is updated each year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization that works to better the futures for disadvantaged children in the United States.

The first Kids Count Data Book was released in 1990. Data figures released Wednesday are through 2010.

"The data reinforces things that we've been identifying as a community, and it makes it easier for us to work together. It helps us work smarter," said Deb Ortiz-Flores, executive director of the county's Job and Family Services agency and its child-support agency.

The report is monitored by a number of local nonprofits and government organizations that serve children, said Greg Braylock, education director at United Way of Greater Toledo.

Aside from poverty figures, the report also shows a general increase in economic pressures on Ohio families. As the state's unemployment rate surged in 2008, the number of children whose parents lack secure employment increased by 20 percent between 2008 and 2010.

In children's health, the report ranked Ohio 24th, identifying a slight decrease in the number of children without health insurance, along with a simultaneous rise in the number of children covered by public health insurance programs. In Lucas County, the number of children covered by public health insurance programs rose from 41 percent in 2003 to 53 percent in 2009. A 2010 figure was not provided in the report.

The increase in enrollment in such programs, said Ms. Ortiz-Flores, can be partially attributed to economic conditions, but also to efforts to expand enrollment and make people better aware of the programs for which they qualify.

"I've received a lot calls from parents who say, 'I'm not worried about myself, I'm worried about my kids, that they have insurance,'" she said.

The report's education figures reflected somewhat better news for the state, ranking Ohio 18th overall. The number of eighth graders proficient in math grew by 9 percent between 2005 and 2011, roughly mirroring the national trend. The number of children attending preschool also increased by 7 percent in the same time period.

But the figures still reveal some significant difficulties, for example, 61 percent of Ohio eighth graders score below proficient in math.

"It shows that there's a lot of work to do," said Mr. Braylock. Economic stresses, he said, can affect students' performance at school in variety of ways, even as certain academic figures rise.

"As families are living in poverty, it influences the children's mental, physical, and emotional development," he said.

The increase in poverty also can strain the resources of school districts, he said, which is particularly noticeable in the rise in students qualifying for free lunch programs at school.

In Lucas County, the number of children on free lunch programs in 2010 was 22 percent higher than in the state as a whole.

"You can go to school districts where it was never a problem before, but they now have large numbers of kids on lunch programs," Mr. Braylock said.

Contact Casey Sumner at: csumner@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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