ESCANABA - More children in Delta, Schoolcraft, and Menominee counties are growing up in families who are struggling to make ends meet, according to new figures released Tuesday through the 2013 Kids Count in Michigan report.
The numbers indicate the most dramatic change this year statewide is a 53 percent increase in the rate of young children qualifying for federal food assistance between 2005 and 2012. More than one in every three qualified for nutritional help due to their families living on incomes under 130 percent of poverty, which is approximately $31,000 a year or less for a two-parent, two-child family.
The report ranks counties on 15 areas of child well-being, discovering five worsening trends tied to declining family economic security. Six areas showed improvement, while three areas remained unchanged and one indicator could not be tracked over time.
The data measured trends in child well-being in the areas of economic security, health, family and community, and education.
Locally, the Kids Count data indicates poverty levels have increased since 2005 across Delta, Menominee, and Schoolcraft counties. In Delta County, 21 percent of children ages zero to 17, or 1,568 children, were living in poverty in 2011.
In Schoolcraft and Menominee counties, these percentages were even higher - with 25.2 percent (413 kids) and 26.2 percent (1,262 kids) living in poverty in 2011.
Delta County ranked 36th of Michigan's 83 counties (No. 1 being the best, or lowest rate) with 34.8 percent of young children ages zero through five eligible for food assistance, a tad lower than the statewide rate of 37 percent. However Delta County's number is still worse when compared to Schoolcraft (ranked 29th) and Menominee (ranked 19th) counties, where 33.1 percent and 28.8 percent of young children are eligible for food assistance respectively.
Additionally, Schoolcraft County ranked 49th with 121 children per 1,000 living in homes investigated for abuse or neglect compared to the state average of 90 children per 1,000.
Delta County ranked 38th in the same category with 112.3 children per 1,000 living in homes investigated for abuse or neglect, while Menominee County was just under the statewide average, ranking 19th, or 85.9 children per 1,000 living in homes investigated for abuse and neglect.
The number of confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect has risen over time to 94 cases in 2012 in Delta County, and nearly doubled to 60 in Menominee County and 34 in Schoolcraft County when compared with data from 2005.
Russell Sexton, director for the Department of Human Services in Delta, Menominee and Dickinson counties said the Kids Count data could really mean anything, noting at this time there is no way to tell whether one factor or a multitude of factors contributed to any increased referrals for Child Protective Services (CPS).
"In 2012, we rolled out a centralized intake unit for referral services," he said, noting any complaints regarding potential child abuse and neglect cases are now taken in downstate. The centralized unit then makes a decision as to which referrals are investigated.
Sexton said this has resulted in a consistent reporting system of neglect and abuse statewide and one which has worked out well for the counties he oversees.
Sexton also noted any increase in referrals for child abuse or neglect cases has likely been a result of legislative changes, as the DHS has undergone some CPS policy changes. Otherwise, compared to last year, DHS data indicates referrals in both Delta and Menominee counties have remained pretty steady.
Kim Johnson, director of the Menominee, Delta, Schoolcraft Community Action Agency's Early Childhood Program, said she is not surprised by the increase in poverty levels and cases of child abuse as the two typically go hand in hand.
"There's been a lot of research about the effects of poverty and increased stress on the family as a whole," she said. "Adults under additional stress sometimes don't have the reserve that they normally would to be able to handle young children when they're struggling with their emotions. Because the adults are more stressed, sometimes what they expect from their children is something the kids can't meet, so their frustration gets higher. That can result in some behavior in adults you wouldn't get under normal circumstances."
Johnson also noted though poverty level numbers in the Kids Count data reflect children from zero to 17 years of age, statistically children zero through five years old make up a greater portion of this population - which also holds true in cases of abuse or neglect.
Elsewhere in the report, Delta County ranked 8th - its top overall score - in the number of students not graduating on time based on class of 2012 numbers. This accounts for 63 students, or 12.7 percent of the class of 2012 population.
And though the number of eighth-grade students in Delta County not proficient in math based on Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) scores has worsened by 8 percent, the number of fourth-graders not proficient in reading based on MEAP scores improved by 15 percent from 2008 to 2012.
Schoolcraft County rated highest in the number of fourth-graders not proficient based on MEAP reading at 19th, improving by 31 percent, while worsening 22 percent in eighth-grade math.
However, Schoolcraft County saw the number of high school students proficient based on Michigan Merit Examination (MME) reading scores worsen by 128 percent from 2008 to 2012.
Menominee County saw improvements in all four educational categories, with a 26 percent improvement in eighth-grade math, 19 percent improvement in fourth-grade reading, an 8 percent improvement in the number of students not graduating on time, and a 3 percent improvement in high school reading.
The greatest statewide improvement, according to the report, was a 33 percent decrease in children living in out-of-home care. In 2012 there were 10,300 children living outside of their homes in Michigan, a drop from almost 17,000 in 2005.
And while Delta and Menominee counties reflect the drop having improved by 13 percent and declining by only 4 percent respectively, Schoolcraft County ranked 76th of the 78 counties with data available, worsening by nearly 200 percent.
Health-wise both Delta and Schoolcraft counties were above Michigan's 29.4 percent rate for less than adequate prenatal care - Delta County at 32.5 percent, and Schoolcraft County at 39.8 percent, according to the 2009-2011 average.
Only Menominee County's percentage of less than adequate prenatal care of 27 percent, ranked 26th in the state, was better than the state rate.
The Kids Count in Michigan project is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families.
For more state and local data, visit www.datacenter.kidscount.org.