Child abuse and neglect in Berrien County jumped 19 percent over the decade while more than half of Berrien K-12 children now qualify for free and reduced price lunches, the latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book concludes.
Michigan’s long economic struggle is reflected in the new Kids Count findings. Children qualify for school-based meals if their family income is 185 percent of poverty or less. Studies confirm that families need income of about 200 percent of poverty – at least $44,226 for a family of four – to cover basic needs without assistance. Poverty also drives up neglect cases.
“The findings show that kids in Berrien County and across Michigan are still suffering the fallout from our long recession,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, the Kids Count in Michigan director at the Michigan League for Human Services. “Poverty in Michigan is as big a threat to our children today as polio was to a previous generation. Fortunately, we can do something about this. We know that public policy can improve children’s social and economic environment.”
This year’s report, Health Matters, focuses on child health and the role the social and economic factors in children’s lives play in good health.
The annual Data Book is released by the Kids Count in Michigan project. It is a collaboration between 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 ranks counties on 16 indicators of child well-being (with No. 1 being the best), though data is not available to rank smaller counties on all 16.
Berrien County’s best ranking was 11th out of 39 counties for teen deaths with a rate of 47 deaths per 100,000 teens compared with a statewide rate of about 56. The county’s worst ranking was No. 70 for births to teens, ages 15 to 19, with a rate of about 48 births per 1,000 teens compared with a statewide rate of 33.
Statewide, the biggest improvements were in the area of education with fewer students considered not proficient in math and among adolescents with fewer births to teens, fewer teen deaths and fewer high school dropouts.
Michigan saw a small improvement in infant mortality from 2000 to 2009, although African American infants have triple the risk of mortality than that of white infants. There was also a 25 percent improvement in the rate of child deaths over the decade with 318 children (ages 1 to 14) dying in 2009, down from 471 in 2000.
Worsening trends included the rate of children confirmed as victims of abuse and neglect, which rose 34 percent statewide over the decade. In 2010, 32,500 Michigan children were confirmed victims with four out of every five suffering from neglect.
In 2010, almost half of K-12 public school students (46.5 percent) qualified for free or reduced price lunch, jumping from 36.2 percent in 2006. The percent of children living in poverty jumped from 14 percent to 23 percent between 2000 and 2009.
Even more startling is the rate of children living in extreme poverty – roughly less than $11,000 a year for a family of four – jumped from 5 percent of children to 11 percent. That means that more than one in every 10 kids in Michigan is living in extremely desperate circumstances, living at half the poverty level.
Children growing up in poverty face lifelong consequences. They are less likely to graduate and more likely to suffer from heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure as adults.
“The impact of high unemployment and declining wages is leaving its mark on a generation of children,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, the Kids Count in Michigan director at the Michigan League for Human Services. “Unfortunately, policymakers have cut family supports aimed at blunting the impact of the economic downturn on kids.”