Mississippi's kids Kids Count data reminds us of persistent problems

This week’s release of the annual Kids Count data book for Mississippi confirms that our state has a long way to go for our children in making their prospects for quality of life better from birth to adulthood.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is Pennsylvania-based, operates Kids Count nationwide as a statistical report card on the services, opportunities and conditions in which children across the United States live and grow up. The chief state sponsor is Mississippi State University and its Social Science Research Center.
The point isn’t to be negative but to inform, and by informing, encourage action to make situations better in broad categories, eventually affecting millions of individual kids.
In some categories – births to teenagers 15-19, for example – Mississippi has improved slightly, and in the dropout rate, the rate has diminished somewhat. But in both categories, catching up even to national averages demands much more success than we’ve had.
In births to teens, 2,126 fewer babies would need to be born to teenage mothers, which would require either abstinence or better contraception. In school dropouts, 6,929 fewer dropouts would be required to equal the average rate nationwide. A statewide dropout prevention initiative has started, and initial results have been encouraging.
Our state is worse off from a year ago in the number of children living in poverty (more than 220,000) and the number of children living in families in which no parent has full-time, year-round employment (317,000).
The most disturbing statistic arguably is the percentage of all Mississippi children living in single-parent families: 44.6 percent. That startling figure is a direct reflection of the birth rate to unmarried women: More than 50 percent of children are born to single mothers in Mississippi.
That statistic trumpets personal and familial irresponsibility by adults, women and men, who apparently take no thought of the consequences for children who are born into a situation with the heaviest liability for contributing to lifelong failure and dependence.
The brightest and best news in the Kids Count report included a citation for CATCH Kids, a program in Tupelo to provide health care for children whose parents have a difficult time getting them to medical appointments because of work schedules and lack of transportation. Clinics at night, staffed by volunteer medical professionals, took care of 883 children in 2007 and provided $35,000 in dental care.
Some way, some day we hope our state fully grasps at the political level the importance of eliminating childhood liabilities preventing the fullest, healthiest development of our state’s most at-risk children.

Joe Rutherford

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