Ga. drops to 43rd in well-being of children study

pramati@macon.comJune 23, 2013 

Georgia has dropped six spots, to No. 43, in an annual survey of the overall well-being of the nation’s children.

According to the 2013 Kids Count study, released by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, one in five Georgia children lives in poverty, while the number of children living in households where their parents lack a full-time job is now 866,000 -- nearly 25 percent higher than four years ago.

The survey examined data from all 50 states in four areas: education, economic well-being, health, and family and community.

Comparing data collected in 2011 -- the year on which the 2013 report is based -- with data from 2005, Georgia made improvements in nearly all the education and health categories, and held its ground in family and community categories.

However, Georgia dropped in nearly all the economic categories, leading to the state falling in ranking. New Hampshire is ranked No. 1, while New Mexico is last.

The news disappointed but didn’t surprise those who run Middle Georgia agencies that work with children.

“It’s incredibly sad,” said June O’Neal, director of the Mentors Project. “I know we have children here that are hungry this summer and over the weekends (without access to school nutrition programs). ... It’s a sad commentary to see Georgia falling.”

Angie Wilson, vice president of program services for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia, said the state and the region’s economies have been hit hard and have been slower to recover than other regions of the country.

“Probably a lot of it has to do with the economy and high unemployment rate in this part of the country,” she said. “Anytime there’s an economic downturn, it impacts the children. We see lots of children who are hungry, so it’s not hard to believe (the data).”

Atlanta-based officials tried to focus on positive aspects of the study. Gaye Smith, executive director of Georgia Family Connection Partnership, noted in a news release the improvements in education and health for the state’s children.

“We’ve actually improved or held steady on most indicators within our state. ... So we are making gains -- just not as quickly as the rest of the nation. We must continue to build on our strategic investments in children and families if we are to rally back.”

The highest-ranked Southeastern state in the study is Florida, which ranks 38th overall. Mississippi is the lowest-ranked state in the region at No. 49.

Locally, groups that work with children are trying to do what they can through partnerships and programming to promote the children’s well-being.

O’Neal said her agency is partnering with the Middle Georgia Food Bank, the Macon Rescue Mission and a women’s group from Martha Bowman United Methodist Church to make sure local children get the food they need.

“You have unemployed parents and grandparents trying to raise children, and it’s very difficult,” she said. “We need to instill hope in families.”

O’Neal said she hopes more people will volunteer their time for the Mentors Project, which currently has 57 children on its waiting list for a mentor.

Wilson said her organization fills many of the gaps that some children have in their home lives. She said the nonprofit provides a place where children can do their homework, get a healthy snack and enjoy physical activities with other children -- all for $5 a year.

“We try to provide services that parents can’t afford but have to have,” she said.

To see the national data, go to datacenter.kidscount.org. To examine data relating to Georgia, go to gafcp.org/kidscount.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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