Report: Kids in Texas have it rough

Posted Monday, Jun. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Conditions have improved slightly for children in Texas, but a national report that ranks states on the health and well-being of kids still has the Lone Star State among the bottom 10.

In its 2013 Kids Count report, released Monday, the Annie E. Casey Foundation said that in some areas, Texas children and families are doing better, with fewer uninsured children and a drop in child and teen death rates. Overall, Texas ranks No. 42, a slight improvement over its previous ranking of 44.

The Baltimore-based organization gathers and analyzes data and statistical trends using an index of 16 indicators in four categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Most of the data for the 2013 report comes from 2011.

Frances Deviney, Texas Kids Count director at the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the results are sobering but encouraging.

“We know what works to build healthy, strong and economically secure kids,” Deviney said. “It’s time Texas put kids first by making real investments in their future. Doing the bare minimum will keep our kids in the bottom 10 — and that’s not where we want, or need, to be.”

The Casey study ranks Texas 30th among U.S. states for economic well-being, 36th in child healthcare and 31st in education. Texas ranks 48th in families and communities — ahead of New Mexico and Mississippi, with 36 percent of children being raised in single-parent families. Twenty-three percent of children are in families headed by someone without a high school diploma, according to the report.

“The data in this year’s national Kids Count Data Book reflect child well-being at the end of a period of increased state investments in our kids’ well-being,” Deviney said in a news release. “For many of the data points, the most current data available is from 2011 — the year we decided to make massive cuts to investments in kids’ education and health care for 2012 and 2013.”

On the upside, Deviney said, nine of the 16 indicators are showing an upward trend for Texas children.

More young children are attending preschool, and more eighth-graders are proficient in math. The percentage of children who lack health insurance dropped from 18 percent in 2008 to 13 percent in 2011, and the child and teen death rate dropped, from 33 deaths per 100,000 in 2005 to 26 per 100,000 in 2010. The teenage birth rate improved, from 62 per 1,000 births in 2005 to 52 per 1,000 in 2010.

Yet despite the improving economy, poverty is getting worse for Texas children. About 27 percent of Texas children live in poverty, up from 25 percent in 2005.

“What we’ve noticed is coming through the recession, families in these situations haven’t seen the lift that a lot of others have. In some of our communities here in Fort Worth, the unemployment rate is extraordinarily high,” said Daphne Barlow Stigliano, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Fort Worth. “There’s a lot of stress, there’s a lot of transition, and they fare worse.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs work primarily with low-income families and offer programs for children to target academic success, healthy lifestyles, and character and citizenship, because those are the areas where such children are more likely to have trouble, Stigliano said.

Over the summer, youngsters at the Boys & Girls Clubs can get meals and participate in programs five days a week to help them keep up their reading and academic skills, be physically active, and learn about citizenship, Stigliano said.

“Children aren’t faring very well in our community and across Texas. What we see is kids are really suffering before they really get their shot at life,” Stigliano said. “This is something that collectively we all should be concerned about. Children of all circumstances make up our future.”

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown

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