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Ottawa County tops Kids Count report

Krystle Wagner • Apr 18, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Progress has been made in Ottawa County for child well-being, but there’s still work to be done, says the project director for the Kids Count in Michigan report.

The county ranked first in the state for overall child well-being in the 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, which the Michigan League for Public Policy released today (Tuesday).

The report looks at indicators in economic security, health, education, family and community, access to health care, family support programs, economic climate, and family and community.

Kids Count in Michigan Project Director Alicia Guevara Warren said the report is important for providing an understanding of how children are doing and to provide information about trends. She said Ottawa County’s first-place standing speaks well for the programs and efforts happening here. Last year, the county was ranked second in the state.

The 2017 report includes data that shows children and families are being left behind despite the economic recovery, Warren said. More than 1 in 5 Michigan children, or about 22 percent, lived in poverty in 2015, which is up 15 percent since 2008.

In Ottawa County, the number of children ages 0-17 living in poverty in 2015 was about 9.2 percent, much lower than the state’s 22.2 percent.

According to the report, almost 17 percent of children in Michigan live in high-poverty neighborhoods. But, that rate is higher among African-American and Hispanic children, who live in neighborhoods with rates of 55 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

The number of Ottawa County residents ages 15-19 who gave birth dropped from 22.3 percent in 2006-08 to 13.2 percent in 2012-14.

Mothers in Ottawa County who received less than adequate prenatal care increased from 21.3 percent in 2006-08 to 24.4 percent in 2012-14. The county ranks ninth in the state for that factor.

Countywide, the median household income was $61,429. The statewide median income was $51,063.

Although the report revealed positive trends, Warren said there are also some concerns.

The number of confirmed child abuse and neglect victims statewide rose about 30 percent since 2008, and more than 80 percent of the incidents stemmed from neglect. Warren said some of that increase could be due in part to policy changes that led to more investigations.

In an effort to make changes, the Michigan League for Public Policy made the following recommendations:

— Promote comprehensive strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect, including the expansion of home visitation programs.

— Ensure access to affordable, quality child care by raising eligibility levels for state child care subsidies and reforming the current system.

— Increase funding for maternal smoking prevention and cessation programs and services.

— Provide sufficient funding for early interventions to improve third-grade reading using a “birth-to-eight” framework.

— Raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old.

Warren said that someone working a full-time job isn’t enough to lift them out of poverty, and about 38 percent of wages goes toward child care. In 2016, the average cost of full-time child care per month in Ottawa County was $559, slightly lower than the statewide average of $563 a month.

Although there are subsidized programs available, less than 1 percent of Ottawa County residents and less than 2 percent statewide use the programs.

With the release of the 2017 report, Warren said they hope people will take the information and recommendations to their policymakers. She said they also hope the data helps local communities dive deeper into what’s going on so they can develop appropriate programs.

“We want communities to take the data and assess what’s going on,” she said.

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