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Report: Michigan child well-being slips

Kent County ranks 29th among 82 counties ranked

LANSING—The latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book underscores the need to act to help children in Michigan with eight of 15 indicators of child well-being showing worsening trends.

Kent County ranked 29th of 82 counties for overall child well-being with No. 1 being the best ranking. This is the first time since 1992, when the first state data book was released, that the report ranks counties on the overall status of child well-being using 13 of 15 indicators. This provides a bigger picture of local child well-being and how the county compares with others.

“We clearly see a connection between higher-income communities and better outcomes for kids, but even in more affluent counties, child poverty and the need for food assistance jumped dramatically,’’ said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy. “No area of the state escaped worsening conditions for children when it comes to economic security.”

Child poverty in Kent County increased 42 percent over the trend period compared with a statewide jump of 28 percent. The rate of young children in the county qualifying for food assistance increased 26 percent, compared with a statewide increase of 55 percent. The period covered in the book is generally 2005 to 2011.

The rate of confirmed victims of abuse and neglect, linked to poverty, increased by 50 percent in the county compared with a statewide increase of 28 percent.

Statewide, the biggest improvements were the decline of kids in foster care, decreasing from 17,000 in 2005 to 11,000 in 2011, and a drop in fourth-graders not proficient in reading from 40 percent to 32 percent of test-takers in the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

Statewide, mortality rates for infants fell by 8 percent between 2005 and 2010 while the death rate for children/youth ages 1-19 declined 11 percent.

Kent County ranked 11th of 56 counties in child/teen deaths among children and teens ages 1-19. Child and teen deaths occurred at a rate of 21 deaths per 100,000 children, compared with a rate of 28 per 100,000 statewide. The county’s worst performance was in births to teens, ages 15-19. With a ranking of 57 of 82 counties, births to teens occurred at a rate of roughly 37 births per 1,000 teens, compared with 32 per 1,000 statewide.

The annual Data Book is released by the Kids Count in Michigan project. It is a collaboration between the Michigan League for Public Policy (formerly the Michigan League for Human Services), which researches and writes the report, and Michigan’s Children, which works with advocates statewide to disseminate the findings. Both are nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organizations concerned about the well-being of children and their families.

The report is available at www.mlpp.org.

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