Monday, June 24, 2013

Economic well-being of children in Kansas getting worse, according to new study

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

The economic well-being of children in Kansas is getting worse, according to data released Monday.

The percentage of children living in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, and teens who are not in school and aren't working have all increased from 2005 to 2011, according to the 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released by the Annie Casey Foundation.

Kansas ranked 16th among states in overall child well-being in categories covering health, economics, education and family and community.

That is the same rank Kansas had last year, but Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Kids, said drilling down into the statistics shows some disturbing trends, especially in the area of economic security.

From 2005 to 2011, the number of children living in poverty has increased from 15 percent to 19 percent.

And the number of children living in areas of concentrated poverty has increased from 2 percent to 7 percent, which is a significantly higher increase than the national rate.

"It's a pretty bleak picture. One in five Kansas kids is living in poverty," Cotsoradis said. They will less likely have adequate nutrition, access to health care and a high quality of early childhood learning, she said.

"The deck is really stacked against them from Day 1," she said.

Cotsoradis said the statistics cover one year of Gov. Sam Brownback's administration — 2011 — and the trends show his policies aren't working.

“The data tell us that Kansas is moving in the wrong direction, despite the governor’s stated commitment to reducing childhood poverty in his ‘Roadmap for Kansas,’ ” she said.

But officials in Brownback's administration said the governor has made reducing childhood poverty a top priority.

"Childhood poverty, as we know, is a major concern to all of us, and certainly to the governor," said Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore.

Gilmore chairs Brownback's task force on reducing childhood poverty, which met Monday to work on recommendations to send to the governor.

In a review of information provided to the task force, DCF Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs Michelle Schroeder said education, full-time work, and not having children out of wedlock were three keys to avoiding poverty.

Gilmore added, "We are trying to create people and families with inner strength and not dependency."