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Report sheds light on child well-being

Krystle Wagner • Apr 17, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Ottawa County ranks near the top of the list when it comes to overall child well-being.

According to the 2018 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, which the Michigan League for Public Policy released today (Tuesday), Ottawa County is No. 2 in the state.

The 2018 report compares 2010 and 2016 data, and looks at 16 key indicators in economic security, education, family and community, and health. College readiness was also added to this year’s report.

Eighty-two of Michigan’s 83 counties were ranked for overall child well-being. The press release from the league noted that Keweenaw County lacked sufficient data.

Since several changes were made to the data, rankings from previous years can’t be compared.

Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count in Michigan’s project director, said things are starting to make progress, just slowly. About half of the key indicators either slightly changed or remained the same, she said.

Comparing 2010 to 2016, 73 counties saw improvements in child poverty rates, 74 counties had a decline in birth rates and 11 counties improved third-grade reading proficiency. Sixty-three counties didn’t see an improvement in the rate of confirmed victims of neglect or abuse.

Although the statewide child poverty rate has decreased 11.5 percent since 2010, still 1 in 5 children live in poverty. Ottawa County ranked second for child poverty with 8.9 percent of children ages 0-17 living in poverty.

While the county ranks second for overall child well-being, one area of concern is the amount of 3- and 4-year-olds who are not in preschool, Warren said. The county ranks 53rd in the state, with 59.3 percent of children ages 3-4 not in preschool in 2016.

Warren noted that the state has a 4-year-old preschool program, but not a 3-year-old program.

The top five counties for overall child well-being are Livingston, Ottawa, Clinton, Oakland and Washtenaw. The state’s bottom five counties are Lake, Clare, Muskegon, Calhoun and Oceana.

The report also shows some “incredibly troubling disparities by race and barriers to opportunity,” Warren said.

Looking at the data from a high-level perspective, Warren said that outcomes look different based on race and ethnicity, and income. She said African-American children fare worse than their peers.

In working to make changes, Warren said it’s important for policymakers to take a racial equity lens to policy. She noted that Ottawa County is part of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), which is aimed at addressing equity.

Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said in a press release that the new report “provides an important counterpoint to the conversation on Michigan’s economic recovery.”

“While poverty has dropped slightly, it’s still affecting nearly half of all African-American kids, and nearly a third of all Michigan kids don’t have any family member steadily working,” Jacobs said. “As lawmakers work on the budget over the next few months, they must place a greater emphasis on supporting struggling families and their kids.”

The Michigan League for Public Policy released recommendations based on the data. Those recommendations include: strengthening policies to support work such as the Earned Income Tax Credit; ensuring families have access to high-quality and affordable child care; expanding programs aimed at providing additional support to families, removing barriers that prevent women from having access to prenatal care, and reducing the risk for child abuse and neglect; providing “sufficient funding” for interventions to improve third-grade reading; and raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18.

Warren noted that Michigan is one of five states that hasn’t raised the age for juvenile jurisdiction, and doing so could better children’s lives and the state, she said. Warren said the current age puts children at a disadvantage. She said there’s a package of bills currently in the House Law and Justice Committee that has bipartisan support.

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