Michigan child well-being slips

Osceola County ranks 66th among 82 counties ranked

LANSING - The latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book underscores the need to act to help children in Michigan with eight of 15 indicators of child well-being showing worsening trends. Osceola County ranked 66th of 82 counties for overall child well-being with No. 1 being the best ranking. This is the first time since 1992, when the first state data book was released, that the report ranks counties on the overall status of child wellbeing using 13 of 15 indicators. This provides a bigger picture of local child wellbeing and how the county compares with others. “We clearly see a connection between higher-income communities and better outcomes for kids, but even in more affluent counties, child poverty and the need for food assistance jumped dramatically,’’ said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy. “No area of the state escaped worsening conditions for children when it comes to economic security.” Child poverty in Osceola County increased 23 percent over the trend period compared with a statewide jump of 28 percent. The rate of young children in the county qualifying for food assistance increased 16 percent, compared with a statewide increase of 55 percent. The period covered in the book is generally 2005 to 2011. The rate of confirmed victims of abuse and neglect, linked to poverty, more than doubled in the county compared with a statewide increase of 28 percent. Statewide, the biggest improvements were the decline of kids in foster care, decreasing from 17,000 in 2005 to 11,000 in 2011, and a drop in fourth-graders not proficient in reading from 40 percent to 32 percent of test-takers in the Michigan Educational Assessment Program. Statewide, mortality rates for infants fell by 8 percent between 2005 and 2010 while the death rate for children/youth ages 1-19 declined 11 percent. Osceola County ranked second best of 81 counties in low-birthweight babies, with 4.4 percent of babies born too small, compared with 8.5 percent statewide. The county’s poorest performance was in eighth-grade MEAP scores, ranking 76th of 82 counties. there were 83.3 percent of eighth-graders not proficient in math, compared with roughly 71 percent statewide. The annual Data Book is released by the Kids Count in Michigan project. It is a collaboration between the Michigan League for Public Policy (formerly the Michigan League for Human Services), which researches and writes the report, and Michigan’s Children, which works with advocates statewide to disseminate the findings. Both are nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organizations concerned about the well-being of children and their families. “The release of this critical report is the start of a conversation. Each year, the data point clearly to programs and policies to improve the lives of all children, youth and families in Michigan,’’ said Michele Corey, interim president and CEO of Michigan’s Children. “Recently elected public officials have the opportunity to impact the future of our state by committing to these recommended policy changes and others proven to make a difference to child outcomes.” Policy recommendations to improve conditions included the following: ● Maintain public systems and structures that help families withstand the weak economic recovery by restoring state unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks and the state Earned Income Tax Credit from 6 percent to 20 percent of the federal credit, and raising eligibility and adjusting the sliding scale for child care subsidies to allow more parents access to licensed child care. ● Address health inequities by improving the health and well-being of children in lowincome and communities of color, eliminating the causes of high teen homicide rates in African American communities, and supporting the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act. ● Invest in prevention by supporting evidence-based programs to prevent teen pregnancies, services to families to prevent child abuse and neglect and early childhood care and education. ● Improve education opportunities by reducing class sizes in early grades, offering incentives to recruit and retain teachers in schools with large numbers of low-performing students and evaluating the impact of open school choice, magnet and charter schools on the students they serve as well as on surrounding schools. The report is available at
www.mlpp.org . Please note that the online report includes a trend page as well as a background page for each county as well the Upper Peninsula, Southeast Michigan, Traverse Bay area, out-Wayne and the city of Detroit.