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New Statistics Reveal Concern & Hope for Our Children

Kids still having a tough time in region,
statistics point to both hope and concern

Though some conditions have improved, a surprising number of children in Washington County still live in significant poverty, witness or experience domestic abuse, require significant mental health and special needs services, and/or need child care, according to an “end-of-decade” report that was released December 13, 2010.

The Washington County Coalition for Children issued its fourth “and How Are the Children?” status of children in the region report at Sunshine Child Development Center, 11 Iafrate Way in North Kingstown. Sunshine Child Development Center is the region’s only KIDS Connect site for therapeutic child care for children with special needs.

The new 100-page report provides information both by town and county on eleven important economic, health, child care, and housing indicators for children.

“The Coalition has been monitoring and trying to improve the last decade’s statistics regarding children,” notes Coalition Coordinator Susan Orban. “We’re taking one last look as we prepare for next decade’s challenges.

“On one hand, I think most people will be shocked how much poverty, hunger, unemployment, and abuse exists in pockets of Washington County. On the other hand, we’ve made some great strides in certain areas. For most people, Washington County is still a wonderful place to live.”

Washington County families were hit by the recession

“One of the first warning signs we look for is family income, and Washington County was not immune from the recession,” Orban points out. The County’s median family income fell 10.2% from $94,071 in 2008 to $84,505 in 2009.

Similarly, unemployment rates in Washington County “skyrocketed” during the past three years. In 2009, unemployment in Washington County reached one in 11 people, 9.1%, she adds.

The number of homeless students in the county’s seven school districts is up 82% (twice the national average) from 141 students in 2005-2006 to 257 students in the 2008-2009 school year.

The new report indicates growing poverty in Washington County given increased enrollment in “safety net programs”. Since 2001, enrollment is up:

  • 87.9% in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps (due to both rising needs and less stringent eligibility criteria)
  • 38.4% in the Free/Reduced School Meal Program, and
  • 49.4% in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

In 2009, 1 in 5 of the county’s children were covered by Medical Assistance, an increase of 25.2% since 2001.

On the other hand, Orban says, stiff new reforms enacted to the state’s cash assistance program dropped 67.8% of impoverished children from its rolls since 2001.

Mental health shows significant need, but local partial hospitalization program closes

The new study reports that during 2008 & 2009 in Washington County:

  • 303 children in crisis received emergency mental health evaluations
  • 130 children and youth were hospitalized for psychiatric reasons

In 2009 in Washington County:

  • Almost 200 children and youth were served by the new West Bay FCCP (Family Care Community Partnership)
  • 121 area children and youth received CAITS (Child & Adolescent Intensive Treatment Services) from South Shore Center or Family Service of RI

At the same time, however, due to state budget cuts and reforms, the region’s only community mental health center (South Shore Mental Health Center) was forced to cut most of its children’s programs, including a partial hospitalization program. South Shore is currently in the process of rebuilding its children’s programs.

Not all Washington County residents are safe in their own homes

From 2007-2009, state and local police reported:

  • 1,544 arrests for domestic violence
  • 560 visible injuries to victims
  • 214 Restraining Order/No Contact Order violations
  • 472 children witnessing domestic violence incidents

During the same time period, DCYF reported 606 “indicated” child abuse and neglect incidents, an increase of 45% between 2008-09. DCYF has placed 131 Washington County children out of their homes.

Teen pregnancy declines, but still high in Westerly

One of the bright spots among the statistics is the drop in youth giving birth to babies. Birth rates to young teens (age 15-17) in Washington County have been declining steadily, from 12.1 in 1996-2000 to 7.0 in 2004-2008. Despite the decline, however, teen births remain high in Westerly.

Coalition issues “wish list” for Washington County children

“As we begin with fresh numbers from the 2010 census, the Coalition has put together a “wish list” we hope will be met by the end of the next decade,” Orban says.

The list includes:

Provide adequate safety net services for families with children
Assure working parents have access to quality child care for their children
Protect children from violence
Reduce risky youth behaviors
Expand continuum of local behavioral health and special needs services
Build affordable housing resources, eradicate homelessness among children.
The full “and how are the children?” report can be downloaded for free here.