County ranks 79th in child well-being

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.

Clare County ranked 79th 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 Clare County increased 44 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 23 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, decreased by 6 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.

Clare County’s best ranking is 25th of 82 counties for children in families investigated for abuse and neglect, with a rate of 72 children in investigated families per 1,000 children, compared with the state rate of 73 per 1,000.The county’s worst ranking was 82nd of 83 counties for children living in poverty with 42.5 percent of county children in poverty compared with 23.4 percent 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 release of this critical report is the start of a conversation. Each year, the data point clearly to programs and policies to improve the lives of all children, youth and families in Michigan,’’ said Michele Corey, interim president and CEO of Michigan’s Children. “Recently elected public officials have the opportunity to impact the future of our state by committing to these recommended policy changes and others proven to make a difference to child outcomes.”

The report is available at www.mlpp.org. Please note that the online report includes a trend page as well as a background page for each county as well the Upper Peninsula, Southeast Michigan, Traverse Bay area, out-Wayne and the city of Detroit.