Children are becoming more diverse in Rhode Island, but the number of babies born in withdrawal from opioids continues to grow. Those are just some of the statistics in this year’s Kids Count fact book, which comes out Monday. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Elisabeth Harrison spoke with Rhode Island Kids Count Executive Director Elizabeth Burke Bryant about several of the highlights in the report.
While the percentage of employed parents has increased since last year, the fact book found child poverty rates remain steady. Burke Bryant sees a delayed impact from the improving economy.
“One in five children is still living in poverty in Rhode Island,” said Burke Bryant. “That represents 41,000 of our children living in families with income of around $19,000 for a family of three. That is far too many.”
The fact book also points to a higher percentage of low income families living in cities, and children of color are more likely to experience poverty.
In a concerning statistic for those in the mental health community, the number of children hospitalized for mental health issues has doubled over the last decade. Part of the increase may be related to greater awareness that mental health issues can affect young children, but Burke Bryant said overall the increase is not what she hoped to see.
"We'd like to see more community-based treatment that is more family centered at the earlier stages." said Burke Bryant. "An increase in hospitalizations means that we're not getting it early enough for some of these children."
Kids Count also tracks applications for Rhode Island's relatively new Temporary Caregiver Insurance program, which provides financial help for people who take time off work to care for a new baby or a sick relative.
According to this year's fact book, about 1/3 of the people applying to stay home with a newborn baby are men. Burke Bryant said Rhode Island is one of just three states with a temporary caregiver law.
“During the debate on the bill people were more and more talking about our responsibility as family members regardless of our gender and that is true with the caring of young children, and so it’s great to see so many fathers taking advantage of that,” said Burke Bryant.
Nearly 5,000 Rhode Islanders, both men and women, applied for temporary caregiver insurance in 2015, the majority to care for a new baby.