Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bad News for Georgia's Children

In Georgia, 21% of our children live in poverty, and more than one-third of children live in families where neither parent has a full-time, year-round job. This startling data was released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as preliminary numbers for the 2006 KIDS COUNT Data Book, a state-by-state study on child and family well-being. Overall, Georgia has fallen from 39th to 44th nationally. While trend shows improvement, many communities, particularly those in South Georgia lag behind the state averages. The full report will be available soon. Past data can be viewed at Georgia Family Connection Partnership. Click on "Kids Count."

Georgia's drop in the national rankings is due in part to escalating rates of child poverty (21% of Georgia children live in poverty), increasing numbers of low birthweight infants (9%/41st in the nation)and increasing numbers of children who live in households where neither parent has a full-time, year-round job (35% of all children). Our infant mortality rate, stagnant at 8.5 per 1,000 births places Georgia at 43rd in the nation and contributed to the drop in over all ranking.

There are a few bright spots, if you can call them that. On six indicators: teen birth rate, percentage of high school drop outs, percentage of teens who neither attend school or work, child death rate and teen death rate, Georgia showed improvement from 2005. Unfortunately, there was a lot of room for improvement. For instance, we continue to rank 41st in the nation on number of teen births, 48th in the nation for high school drop outs, 42nd in the nation for teens not attending school and not working.

None of this is good news for Georgia's families, and I expect that a fair amount of political hay will be made from it as we move toward November. My personal involvement in politics stems from my involvement in the community, not the other way around. Much of my professional practice and community service is focused on child well-being, and my political choices are directly impacted by how what politicians do effects families. Politically, I would love to just lay this data at the feet of Perdue and use it as a wedge to get a Democrat elected in November, but the reality is much more complicated, and the problem and the charge to find solutions belongs to all of us. We are facing a crisis for our families that defies political labels and calls us all to the table to seek solutions. What can you do?

1) In every Georgia County, there is a Family Connection Partnership. These groups bring together agencies and individuals to gather data, define problems and work together toward measurable positive outcomes. These programs are effective because the partnership is broad, including public, private, the faith community and individuals. And the results are measurable. For instance, in Georgia counties where the FCP targeted teen pregnancy, the rates declined as compared to counties that did not. Find your collaborative and get involved.

2) Educate yourself about the problems and what works to address them. There is a wealth of information on the state Family Connections website.

3) During session, look critically at legislation and ask whether a given bill will make these problems better or worse, and advocate for families, not for party loyalty.


ProgReader1 said...

1) Georgia has a high incarceration rate which exacerbates the poverty problems.
Crime produces poverty and poverty produces crime. People do what they can to survive.
If unqualified for a ‘legitimate job’ then an ‘illegitimate job’ will be found.

2) Drug abuse is the most pressing problem and using law enforcement to address the issue is a disaster. Poor people are easy prey for over enforcement. Rich people get treatment and poor people get jail.

A recent “Meth commericial” is a good example. The mother is making meth while her daughter plays upstairs. Also notice that the mother is calling the daughter to dinner. So even while the addicted the mother wants to take care of her daughter. The GA response is to give the mother up to 15 years to “protect” the child instead of treating the mother and making unification of the family a priority. Additionally a felony drug conviction marks the mother for life disallowing access to good jobs, public assistance, and educational assistance which in turn maintains this vicious cycle.

3) Poor people don’t vote because candidates do not address their issues, such as jobs, housing, and health care. Yes, things like Peach Care sound great, but one has to be poor to get it. It makes politicians seem compassionate and caring but it is bogus because it is not their money, it is taypayer money. Those eligible for Peach Care (the poor) would rather be on their employer provided health insurance just like those politicians get.

Tina said...

The health of our children in Georgia impacts their school performance. Adolescent health care is the pits. All our school kids need to have their vision and hearing re-checked at the 8th grade level, before they enter high school As it is, vision and hearing checks after the point of initial entry are rarely repeated at school except on referral. My guess is that 15-20% of high schoolers have some mild to moderate vision or hearing loss. Lack of sleep is another big problem that impacts school performance. And, I won't even get into the validity of the Georgia graduation tests & the fact that the same tests are given to all the kids regardless of whether they are in a college prep or vocational program.

Button Gwinnett said...

Every election year we have candidates who want to improve education. Because of our dismal stats, it wouldn't seem hard to do that. Because there's no where to go but up. Yet for every improvement we make, we seem to take another two steps back somewhere.

Education is the key to everything. It's the way to a better job and an opporunity for a better life. Better education, better job, better access to healthcare......that's what it's all about. And it's frustating to see Georgia remain so low in every major statistical category.

With the population, the industry, and the quality universities that we have in this state, there's just no excuse for us to be where we are. The disparities between metro Atlanta and the rest of Georgia are shocking. We have 51 school systems currently suing the state of Georgia because the state just isn't living up to its responsibilities in some areas. And even after this lawsuit was filed, Sonny Perdue cuts support and heaps even more unfunded mandates on everyone. The state's response has been to take an increasingly adversarial role. It's answer was to hire attack lawyers to go after the suing districts and force them to drop the suit.

As much as could still be done for so many metro Atlanta schools, this state will not progress until the rest of Georgia is brought up to a higher standard. There are good schools and great teachers out there. But they're being set up to continue failing. That's shocking to me.

Tina said...

The health of Georgia's children is a key factor in school performance. Too many have uncorrected hearing, vision and dental problems.