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Georgia children drop in well-being rankings

State plummets from 37 to 43 in listing

POSTED: July 1, 2013 12:39 a.m.

A recently released national study lists Georgia as 43rd in the nation in the well-being of children.

The 2013 Kids Count study, through The Annie E. Casey Foundation, studies economic, education, health and community data, using those numbers to determine rankings.

It was a drop for the state, which was ranked 37th in 2012.

“However, on almost all of the indicators we improved,” said Rebecca Rice, Georgia Kids Count Project and Data Coordinator. “We are improving. The rest of the nation is just improving a lot faster.”

Various community group leaders agree with that statement, though they are still finding need for various services in Hall County for children and families.

Steven Mickens, chief professional officer with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County, sees it most in the education sector.

“I think probably the No. 1 need that we see on a daily basis is (reading),” Mickens said. “Kids are reading below grade level, and we try to identify those kids immediately to try to assist with the (Gainesville) school system.”

Mickens said a tutoring program has been implemented at the Joseph F. Walters Club off Memorial Park Drive and has seen great results. Due to its success, similar programs are being put in place at the other clubs.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said that she can see things slightly improving, though at a slower rate.

Along with Rice, Dyer pointed out that generational poverty plays a big part in the educational success of a child.

“In situational poverty, it’s a temporary impact,” she said. “By and large, families that are in a poverty situation who have not been in one before will do the things they need to do. They’ll prioritize their children first.”

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield agreed.

“Part of the economic picture involved situational poverty, as families have struggled with the economy over the past five years,” he said.

He pointed out that more than 60 percent of Hall students now qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program.

Rice said that, while she is encouraged by the overall results, the numbers can still be disheartening, with one in four Georgia children living in poverty, and 35 percent of children living in households with parents who lack secure employment.

Those numbers are reflected in Hall, with 31.2 percent of children living with families with annual incomes of less than 150 percent of the federal poverty threshold.

And more than a quarter of children in Hall live in poverty.

The biggest drop in the study, for Georgia, was in health.

“We were slightly worse (from previous years) in low birth-weight babies,” said Naja Williamson, Kids Count manager with Georgia Family Connection. She said the state is doing better in other indicators, such as child and teen deaths.

“We are making improvements over time,” she said. “Overall, we’re pleased with the progress we’re making in health and education.”

Angie Hanes with the District 2 Public Health Administration confirms progress by saying the health department has seen a slight decrease in the needs for its services.

“A lot of these children who before did not have the oportunity to go on PeachCare or Medicaid, their parents are now putting them on ... so they have the opportunity to go to the physician,” she said.

“Public health has always been kind of a safety net for people who may lose their insurance, or are not insured because they’ve lost their job or through some other reason,” said Dave Palmer, public information officer for District 2. “But with the economic downturn and people losing their jobs, then certainly we have seen some folks turning to public health for assistance.”

Williamson said that while the rankings are a good way to have a general idea of how states are performing, she points out that Georgia’s numbers have been trending upward.

“In Georgia, we made improvements in health and education indicators, while we lagged behind in our economic well-being indicators,” she said. “Things are getting steadily better, even with annual fluctuations.”


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