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Georgia rises out of bottom 10 in national child well-being study

Georgia moved out of the bottom 10 states in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report, but Bibb County is still lagging behind the rest of the state in most areas.

Georgia ranked 37th nationally in child well-being, the highest the state has placed in the 23-year history of the report.

The state’s move from the bottom 10 is a significant one for a Southern state, said Gaye Smith, executive director of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership.

“Traditionally, the states that comprise the bottom 10 have been Southern states,” she said.

The national report, scheduled for release Wednesday, looks at four categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Kids Count identified separate indicators within each category, such as babies with low birth weights, children living in poverty, children not graduating from high school on time and teen birth rates.

Bibb County did better than the state and nearby Houston County in some areas.

Bibb reported more students from low-income families enrolled in day care, more women receiving prenatal care in their first trimester, more eligible children enrolled in Medicaid or PeachCare, and fewer child deaths than the state or Houston County.

The county’s numbers were considerably worse in other areas.

Bibb County reported 38.7 percent of its children living in poverty, while the state reported 25 percent and Houston County reported 21.2 percent.

The report also showed that 13.6 percent of babies born in Bibb County had low birth weights, compared to the state’s 9.8 percent; 51 teen births per 1,000 compared to 41.2 per 1,000 statewide; and 10.3 instances of child abuse per 1,000, more than three times the state average.

Houston County reported 9.4 percent low birth weights, 38.8 teen births per 1,000 and 2.9 instances of child abuse per 1,000.

The data analyzed by Kids Count is taken from multiple sources, including the U.S. Census, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the GBI.

Travis Blackwell, executive director of Bibb Family Connection, said many of Bibb County’s problems result from a high poverty rate. He pointed to a study conducted in February by Georgia Family Connection Partnership that identified Bibb County as one of seven counties in Georgia with areas of concentrated poverty of more than 70 percent.

Blackwell said realities of poverty -- a lack of prenatal care, for example, or other factors that result in low birth weight babies -- increase the likelihood for childhood illnesses. And that, in turn, can cause problems down the road in school.

“Unhealthy kids don’t learn as well as healthy kids,” he said.

The cycle can continue, he said, with poor performance in school being linked to teen pregnancies and dropout rates.

Blackwell is working with the Promise Neighborhood Initiative, a nationwide program focused on low-income areas, to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the outlook for children and families in Bibb County.

Some of the initiative’s proposed solutions include:

Training and certifying childcare providers.

Enhancing transitional services between elementary, middle and high schools.

Engaging college students with volunteer work in targeted neighborhoods.

Providing discounted new and refurbished computers to low-income families.

Re-introducing peer-leadership sex education training.

Expanding community gardens and nutritional programming.

Improving transportation and access to neighborhood services and amenities.

Blackwell said the solutions were planned after studying the Unionville and Tindall Heights neighborhoods in Macon.

One possibility being considered is to create a day care at Southwest High School for students’ children.

Blackwell said Southwest teachers said a day care was the primary improvement they would like to see at their school.

The Kids Count report shows a high rate of teen pregnancies in Bibb County, something Blackwell said the initiative hopes to offset by putting productive activities in place for students between the end of the school day and dinnertime.

“That’s the time when we know a lot of kids get into trouble because they have nothing positive to engage in,” he said.

Bibb County is not alone in its struggle.

Smith, of Georgia Family Connection Partnership, said Georgia’s struggle with poverty goes back generations, a cycle that can be difficult to break.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said in a news release that the solution to poverty spanning generations must be two-pronged.

“The most effective way to move families toward self-sufficiency is through a two-generation strategy that helps parents find and keep work and save and build assets while investing in their children’s healthy development and educational success,” he said.

For data from specific counties, visit http://datacenter.kidscount.org/.

To contact writer Liz Bibb, call 744-4425.

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