The overall health and education of children has improved across Georgia over the past 10 years, but their economic well-being has worsened.
Those were among the findings of the 25th anniversary report from the Kids Count data book, released Tuesday.
The report said Georgia ranks No. 42 in the country in child welfare, an improvement of one spot from last year’s report and six places better than the state’s ranking in the inaugural list.
Here are some of the findings from the 2014 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation:
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In 2005, 74 percent of fourth-graders in Georgia were unable to read on grade level. By 2013, that rate had improved to 66 percent.
During that period, eighth-grade math proficiency and high-school graduation rates also improved significantly statewide.
The rate of children not enrolled in preschool has remained at 52 percent since 2005.
Georgia also has improved in all four of Kids Count’s health indicators. Rates of low-birth-weight babies (9.3 percent), children without health insurance (9 percent), child and teen deaths (30 deaths per 100,000), and teens who abuse drugs or alcohol (6 percent) have all improved over the past decade.
In the area of family and community well-being, Georgia saw a dramatic decline in teen birth rates (from 53 births per 100,000 to 34 per 100,000) in the last decade, as well as a decrease in children living in households that lack a high-school diploma.
In 1990, 63 percent of children in Georgia ages 3 and 4 were not attending preschool. By 2011, that number had fallen to 50 percent, bringing Georgia up to 24th in the nation for that indicator.
More than a quarter of Georgia’s children lived in households that lacked a high school diploma 25 years ago. By 2012, that indicator had improved to just 15 percent of households.
More children are living in single-parent families and in high-poverty areas since 2005 and 2000, respectively. The rate of children living in poverty has surged to 27 percent -- 672,000 children -- a 35 percent increase since 2005. The number of homes where parents lack secure employment has increased as well, as did the number of children living in households with a high housing cost burden.
The 25-year data also showed persistent struggles in Georgia. The percentage of high school students not graduating on time was the same in 1990 as it was in 2012. The number of children living in households without full-time, year-round employment, and the number of teens not in school and not working both have increased by 3 percent since 1990.
Kem Sanderson, executive director of Rainbow House Children’s Resources in Warner Robins, said the Rainbow House, a child’s advocacy center that also supports parents, uses the annual reports to find trends and compare Houston County’s and the state’s statistics. This year, she said, Georgia’s report was a mixed bag.
“I was excited to hear that our teen birth rate has decreased, because that’s one of the things that (Rainbow House Children’s Resources) set out to do,” Sanderson said. “It sounds like we’re not focusing as much on what the rest of them are doing. Are they finishing school? If they’re not finishing school, why aren’t they finishing school? And if they’re not finishing school, are they working? What are they doing out there?”
Sanderson also lamented the report’s finding that nearly half of the children who should be in preschool aren’t, and haven’t been for nearly a decade.
“That just kind of stuck out in my head, because I do believe in early education,” she said. “Early education for all children is very important, because it sets them on their first steps toward achieving later in life.”
She said more focus on early education may have a greater impact on teenagers.
“It’s always good to look at trends and where we’re headed and where we’re not,” Sanderson said. “Where can we make improvements? Because there’s always improvements to be made.”
Telegraph writer Laura Corley contributed to this report.