Annual KIDS COUNT factbook shows progress, challenges for R.I. children

(Updated 10 a.m.) PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island’s child population is decreasing, as well as its student enrollment, and while the state has the highest rate of children with at least one unemployed parent, it ranks best in the country for fully immunized children.
These are some of the highlights from the 21st annual Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, which will be formally unveiled Monday at a policy breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick in Warwick.
“Our state’s economic future depends on healthy children and strong families. We need to ensure that Rhode Island’s public-policy investments support children’s health care, high-quality child care, early-childhood education, K-12 and higher education. Investing in healthy, well-educated children is an investment for our future workforce and the next group of community leaders for Rhode Island,” Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, said in a statement.
The report, which examines the well-being of Rhode Island’s children, stated that between 2000 and 2013, the child population declined 14 percent, to 212,827 from 247,822.
It also said that as of October 2014, there were 141,959 students in the state’s public schools, a decrease of 9 percent from 156,498 in October 2004. In October 2014, 47 percent of students in Rhode Island were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs.
Rhode Island had the highest rate of children with at least one unemployed parent, at 12 percent, compared with the U.S. average of 8 percent.
Also, more students were identified as homeless by school personnel during the 2013-2014 school year at 1,023, an increase from 923 in the 2012-2013 school year. Of the 1,023 children, 59 percent lived with other families, 33 percent lived in shelters, 8 percent in hotels or motels and 1 percent were unsheltered.
The report also found that wide disparities exist in poverty and median family income among racial and ethnic groups. Between 2011 and 2013, 21 percent of all children, 45 percent of all Hispanic children, 44 percent of Native American children, 38 percent of black children, 20 percent of Asian children and 15 percent of white children lived in families with incomes below the federal poverty level.
In 2013, 50 percent of Rhode Island’s Hispanic children were living in poverty, compared with the national rate of 33 percent, the report said. The median family income for Hispanics in Rhode Island was $30,611, compared with $72,152 overall for all races.

The report found improvements in children’s health, citing that 82 percent of children ages 19 months to 35 months were fully immunized, a figure that was above the national rate of 70 percent. Rhode Island’s rate was the best rate in the country, and also represented an increase from its 2012’s immunization rate of 73 percent.
In 2013, 5.4 percent of Rhode Island’s children under 18 were uninsured, which was lower than the national rate of 7.1 percent. In this category, Rhode Island ranks 16th best in the nation, as 94.6 percent of children have health insurance.
The report also said the teen birth rate dropped in Rhode Island in 2013 to 17.7 births per 1,000 teens, the lowest ever recorded. The five-year average teen birth rate in Rhode Island also declined 30 percent between 2005 and 2013. The teen birth rate in the four core cities – Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket – also declined by 30 percent during that time period.
Health challenges include a 53 percent increase from 2003 to 2013 in hospitalizations of children with a primary diagnosis of a mental disorder. More than 2,700 children were hospitalized during that period.
As for safety, Rhode Island ranked best in the nation for having the lowest death rate for children ages one to 14 at nine per 100,000 children, a decrease from 14 deaths per 100,000 children in 2012.
However, child maltreatment reports to the state Department of Children, Youth and Families Child Protective Services hotline have been on the rise for five consecutive years, from 12,189 in 2009 to 14,735 in 2014.
As for education, 81 percent of children were enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs in the 2014-2015 school year, with 28 of the 35 elementary schools and all of the public charter schools offering full-day kindergarten.
Another positive was the graduation rate; the four-year graduation rate for the Class of 2014 was 81 percent, compared with 80 percent for the Class of 2013 and 70 percent for the Class of 2007.
The report included for the first time data on babies born with exposure to opioids or alcohol; births of babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) has been on the rise in Rhode Island and nationwide, and NAS refers to the withdrawal and negative effects experienced by newborns born to mothers who used opioids during pregnancy. In 2013, 76 babies were diagnosed with NAS at birth, a rate of 72 per 10,000 births, nearly double the rate of 37.2 in 2006. Ninety percent of the babies born with NAS between 2009 and 2013 were born to white mothers; 32 percent lived in the four core cities.

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