The most comprehensive collection of statistics about the health and well-being of Rhode Island’s children comes out today from Rhode Island Kids Count. Overall,kids have made some promising gains in health and education, but the agency says progress is still needed on several fronts.
Rhode Island Kids Count’s Fact Book tracks 71 measures of children’s health and well-being, including education, safety, health, and economic security. One finding this year is that one in four children under the age of six lives in poverty – a percentage that hasn’t budged over the past few years. Kids Count head Elizabeth Burke Bryant says poverty affects every other measure of a child’s well-being.
“Children who live in poverty do worse in terms of educational outcomes, not because they’re poor, but because of other issues of access and disparities in education," said Bryant. "Second, children in poverty are more likely to have chronic health conditions.”
Also, they’re more likely to have suffered child abuse or neglect. Some positive measures this year include a bump in third grade reading proficiency and a high number of children with health insurance coverage.
On a darker note, more reports of alleged child abuse or neglect are pouring into the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. But Bryant says that hasn’t translated into a higher number of cases actually being investigated.
“So what that says to us is that something is out of whack in terms of the percentage of calls going up, and the investigations for possible child abuse and neglect that are actually going out and investigating that case," Bryant said. "And that all comes down to how is the department assessing risk at the front end of the agency.”
Bryant says DCYF may not be taking into account a family’s history with DCYF, which indicates a child is at greater risk of harm. Plus she says there aren’t enough front line workers available to investigate cases.