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Census Reveals Increased Needs Among Area Children

Despite 12% drop in youth population, rates of single-parent households, food insecurity, and homelessness among area children rise

“I can’t explain why every one of our nine towns lost child population in the last decade — from 28,882 in 2000 to 25,491 in 2010,” Coalition Co-Chairwoman Lori Duffy told a gathering of social service agency leaders, legislators, and community leaders last month at the organization’s 9th Annual Children’s Issues Forum. “But, I can report that the problems have increased, not decreased,”

One in four children living single-parent households

“Perhaps the most significant statistic is that one in four children in Washington County lives in a single-parent household now; one in five did so a decade ago,” Duffy noted. Every town showed an increase in single-parent households except Richmond, which remained at 15%.

“Single parents have a considerably harder time paying bills and ensuring educational and emotional stability for their children; that’s why we keep a close eye on this statistic,” Duffy explained. “We’re very concerned about such a significant increase in 10 years.”

Food issues more than double

Even with the population drop, family enrollment in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) more than doubled, Duffy continued, from 1,421 children receiving benefits in 2001 to 3,114 in 2010. The number of children receiving free and/or reduced school meals is also up 48% (3,899 in 2010 vs. 2,636 in 2001).

“This is a ‘good news/bad news’ situation,” she acknowledged. “On the one hand, we are conducting much better outreach in our towns, identifying and serving hungry children.

“On the other hand, a remarkably high percentage of children in our region are experiencing food insecurity.”

Using the same analogy, Duffy said there was a 26% increase in the number of children receiving medical assistance throughout the county, 5,849 in 2010 vs. 4,639 in 2010, accounting for almost 1 in 4 children.

Rental costs have gone up 49%

Duffy also reported that the 2010 Rhode Island Housing Rent Survey listed the average two-bedroom apartment renting in the area for $1,165 month, up 49% from $782 in 2001.

“Safely spending no more than 30% of your income for housing, a worker would still have to earn $22.40/hour for 40 hours/week to pay his or her rent. That’s three times Rhode Island’s minimum wage,” she explained.

Bright spots: teen pregnancy and juvenile crime down

Duffy announced the bright spots over the past decade were a reduction in the rate of teen pregnancies in most of Washington County’s nine towns – Westerly and Richmond being the exceptions – and only 51 kids in care or custody of RI Training School.

“And,” she concluded, “the Coalition will continue to be vigilant in monitoring key child health data from child care and mental health to school programs and nutrition.”

For more information, see Duffy’s how are the children 2011 slide presentation.