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Latest Statistics on Area Children and Partnerships Focus of 11th annual Children's Issues Forum

While the number of children under 18 in Washington County has dropped by 12% since 2000, their need for services has remained steady or grown, according to statistics released at the 11th annual Children's Issues Forum last Wednesday. The event is sponsored by the Washington County Coalition for Children.

SNAP and WIC enrollments remain same, but enrollment in free/reduced school meals and medical assistance rise

Despite a significant drop in the child population under 18 between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the demand for services has either remained the same or increased, according to a report presented at the Forum by Coalition Coordinator Susan Orban.

"As throughout the state, children and families in Washington County were impacted by the 2008 Recession. The numbers of children enrolled in safety net services has not declined significantly even though the number of children living here decreased by 3,391, or 12%," Orban noted.   The biggest population losses by percentage were in Narragansett (20%), Exeter (16%), and South Kingstown (14%). 

Orban reported that enrollment in SNAP, or Food Stamps, remained essentially unchanged between 2011 and 2012 (3,406 to 3,457). The same was true for WIC nutrition program, which went up only 40 cases, from 1,189 to 1,229.

On the other hand, free/reduced school meal programs saw an 8.5% increase from 3,536 students in 2011 to 3,838 in 2012.  Orban sees the 302-student increase as a plus: "Schools have done a good job of making enrollment easy and less stigmatizing which has helped tremendously, but clearly more families are in need."

Similarly, Orban explained, the "erosion of employer-sponsored health insurance has led to a significant increase in the number of children in Washington County needing medical assistance.  Enrollment has risen 33% since 2001 when we began tracking this data.  

"In 2012, 6,150 - or 24% of the county's children - were receiving medical assistance, up 116 children from the previous year.  This includes children with RIte Care/RIte Share, RIte Works, SSI, Katie Beckett, Adoption Subsidies, and those living in Foster Care."

On the positive side, after peaking in the 2009-10 school year, homelessness among students dropped for the second straight year, to 261 in 2011-12. Orban was also pleased to report that five of the region's seven school districts are now offering full-day kindergarten, and that only 45 youth across the entire county are in the care or custody of the Rhode Island Training School.

But she identified several other troubling statistics:

  • From a 2011 study at Coastal Medical/Narragansett Bay Pediatrics of more than 6,000 young patients, 18% had at least one mental health diagnosis, roughly consistent with national levels of 20%. Most common diagnoses: ADHD and anxiety.
  • The number of teen pregnancies remain high in Westerly and Richmond.
  • 161 children were present during domestic violence arrests, up 12% from the previous year.
  • 2 of 3 middle school students reported they experienced bullying in 2012.
  • 756 high school students admitted they had been in a car driven by a friend who had been drinking last year.
  • At least one in four high school students admitted to drinking alcohol and one in three to smoking marijuana in the 2011-2012 school year.

  Forum features Hopkinton 's Thomas DiPaola, well known educator

DiPaola Giving KeynoteDiPaola Giving KeynoteThe Forum's keynote speaker was educator and Washington County resident Thomas DiPaola, Ph.D. DiPaola has been superintendent of Westerly Public Schools and state director, Office of Special Populations-RI Department of Education. He also held key special education positions for the cities of Pawtucket, and Central Falls. Presently the director of Johnson & Wales University's Educational Leadership Doctoral Program, DiPaola is also an adjunct professor and special lecturer Providence College, where he directed the Rhode Island Technical Assistance Project for 8 years.Dr. DiPaola spoke on the importance of community partnerships in getting better results for children.  "Forging partnerships is not easy," he explained, "yet we cannot adequately address community problems without them.

"Partnerships require shared vision, values, risks, resources, and rewards...from idea to evaluation," he said. "It's not ‘I want you to do something for me.'"

He continued, "The partners share a common view of the objectives, results and outcomes of the alliance.  They share a common vision of the importance of the relationship. Each partner commits an appropriate proportion of the resources, whether capital, people, knowledge, technology or other.

"Then each partner shares appropriately in the rewards. The partners work together to create mutual wins and ALL children in our community benefit," he concluded. He challenged Forum participants to identify potential partners and common concerns, especially related to children's mental health - an important Coalition priority.

 Coalition plans stronger collaboration with schools around mental health

By default, schools are the largest providers of children's mental health services, noted DiPaola.  For this reason, as part of its new strategic plan, the Coalition seeks to collaborate more intently with Washington County schools to improve children's mental health services in the region.  Activities will include breakfast briefings, networking, and training and prevention programs.  "Who here is interested in partnering around children's mental health?" asked DiPaola to the approximately 100 Forum participants.  South Kingstown Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow volunteered to host the first breakfast meeting in her district in June.  Westerly Superintendent Roy Seitsinger and Chariho Assistant Superintendent Carol Blanchette agreed to host similar events later this year.

Click to view . . . and how are the children? 2013 Data Update and/or  Dr. DiPaola's presentation.


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