North Carolina is ranked as one of the 10 worst states in the nation for child well-being in an annual survey. This, despite improved percentages in nearly all of the key indicators used in the measure.
How can this be? Other states improved faster and rose higher in the ranks of the Kids Count survey.
North Carolina is succeeding in some key indictors used in the annual Kids Count report, based on 2001 data. The state once reported the worst infant mortality rates in the nation, made reducing those deaths a priority, and itâ€™s working.
But at the same time, the top risk factor for infant mortality â€” low birth weight â€” worsened. Perhaps this indicates that medical treatment of premature infants improved, but risks werenâ€™t affected.
One risk weâ€™ve surely done too little about is smoking. A baby born into a household of smokers is more likely than one born to non-smokers to have a low birth weight and respiratory difficulty. Still, this â€œtobacco stateâ€ does little to discourage the addiction.
Babies born to teens are also at risk of low birth weights. North Carolina improved its percentages of teen moms since 1996 â€” from 40 percent to 30 percent. Yet nationally, itâ€™s 25 percent. Birth control is a controversial topic. But as these figures show, preaching against sex education doesnâ€™t prevent pregnancies among teens who are already sexually active.
Even with most trends showing improvement, the state fell from 39 to 41 in child well-being.
One reason is poverty. Nationally weâ€™re above average in places our state would prefer not to be: in the number of families where no parent is employed, in the number of children, teens and young adults living in poverty and in the percentage of female-headed families where no child support or alimony is being paid.
Itâ€™s no secret that jobs are disappearing and families with children suffer. The painful transition of a national economy that is sending manufacturing jobs overseas is taking paychecks away from working families. Children donâ€™t escape the trauma.
Jonathan Sher, president of the Raleigh-based N.C. Child Advocacy Institute, agrees that poverty bedevils the state but also sees another problem. North Carolina â€œhas a piecemeal approach to children,â€ he says.
He could be right. Maybe other states have better programs. Maybe other states do more â€” push harder â€” to help children.
But whatever those states are doing, theyâ€™re getting results. North Carolina should look closely at them and follow the leader. It doesnâ€™t matter where we get our ideas as long as they work.