ROCKINGHAM – It’s tough being a kid in Richmond and Anson counties, according to national and state statistics just released by child-welfare advocates.
North Carolina ranks 33rd of the 50 states in measures of childhood well-being, according to a report released this week by the nationally focused Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The top five states, according to the report are New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Minnesota and Iowa; while Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi were at the bottom of the list.
Figures released this month by NC Child confirm such difficulties county by county, though NC Child does not formulate rankings.
“(North Carolina’s) poorest performance is in economic well-being,” said Laila Bell, director of research and data for NC Child, which has published reports on North Carolina children’s well-being for 20 years. “Our modest gains (in some areas) are really not enough to bolster our overall rank (nationally).”
To compile reports of childhood well-being, the two organizations consider data measuring such things as:
• reading and math proficiency, preschool enrollment, and graduation rates.
• the percentage of women who receive prenatal care, which leads to better maternal and infant health.
• the percentage of children not covered by insurance or receiving Medicaid, government-financed insurance for those in low-income households.
• the number of children living in low-income homes or with single parents.
North Carolina fared in the third of four tiers measured nationally: education (23rd of 50 states), health (31st), family and community (36th), and economic well-being (37th).
When the state fared below average, Kids Count cited: percentages of low birthweights and teen drug use; the high number of children living in poverty, as well as higher-than-average teen birthweights; and child poverty, family unemployment and housing costs. In most cases, the study compared figures from 2015 — the latest available — to those from 2011. That year, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare.
On the good side of the statistics is insurance coverage: The percentage of uninsured children has dropped statewide. NC Child credits the federal Affordable Care Act — now being considered for congressional repeal and/or replacement — for the declines in the number of uninsured.
Richmond and Anson counties both marked declines in the number of uninsured children — a 44 percent drop in Richmond and 28.6 percent drop in Anson since 2011.
Other positive results for both Richmond and Anson counties include:
• an increase in the number of students graduating from high school on time (81.2 percent in Richmond County and 82.3 percent in Anson County in 2016, compared to 73.5/73.8 in 2012).
• an increase in the number of women receiving early prenatal care (56/62.6 in 2015, compared to 54.8/57.6 in 2011).
• a dip in household unemployment (7.9/6.5 in 2015, compared to 14.6/12.3 in 2011).
Negative results included:
• increases in child deaths (7.4 per 100,000, a slight rise from base figures in 2013/107.3 in Anson, an almost 20 percent increase from 2013 figures).
• increases in infant mortality (10.8 per thousand live births in 2015 in Richmond, a slight rise/17.4 per thousand in Anson, a more than fivefold increase from 2011).
In both counties, African-American babies were 2.4 times more likely to be born premature, compared to babies of other races.
Preschool enrollment dipped in both counties.
Reports of child abuse and neglect dipped in Richmond and rose in Anson County.
Foster cases remained stable in Richmond and dipped in Anson.
Bell of NC Child said both Casey and NC Child results were “a clear call” for federal and state lawmakers. The reports “clearly (do) highlight those areas we could make some policy decisions.” that would help children and families.
Yet whether they will do so is problematic. At a time when North Carolina has increased its rates of insurance coverage for children, Congress in considering Medicaid caps and a rewriting or repeal of the Affordable Care Act — both of which measures are likely to push children off insurance rolls.
In North Carolina, legislators are considering budget items that could boost the number of pre-kindergarten seats available to low-income children and, at the same time, considering changes to SNAP — otherwise known as food stamps — that could push tens of thousands off the rolls. Most of those who receive food assistance are children.
The study results should come as no surprise to those who live in Richmond County.
In December 2016, a Community Health Assessment conducted by the Richmond County Health Department showed the county ranked among the state’s lowest for health, social and environmental factors, as well as general quality of life. The study, though including all residents and not just children, cited many of the same dangers as the Casey Foundation and NC Child, including higher-than-average family unemployment and child poverty.
Dr. Tommy Jarrell, director of the Richmond County Health Department, guided the task force compiling the assessment. He was not available for comment Thursday.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a privately financed philanthropy in Baltimore, Maryland. Since 1948, it has compiled data on child well-being across the country.
It works with state and other child-advocacy organizations — such as NC Child — in hopes that lawmakers will use its data to formulate laws protecting children, especially those at risk of poor educational, economic, social and health outcomes. It also provides grants to communities develop programs that help children.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.