Child well-being rating improves

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

Covington County's overall ranking for kid's well-being jumped from 27th last year to 25th this year, out of the 67 counties in Alabama, according to data released by VOICES, a non-profit organization located in Montgomery.

The number of children abused and neglected in the county is down, but the number of juveniles, aged 18 and below, arrested for drugs, are up according to data released Thursday.

Compared to neighboring counties, Covington scored the best in children's welfare statistics. The infant mortality rate in the county, or the number of deaths of infants under 1 year old per 1,000 births, is 9.1 percent, down from 14.3 percent last year. The percentage of vulnerable families, or first births to unmarried teens who have not completed high school, has also dropped from 21.5 percent to 11.5 percent.

"We've seen improvement over the decade (since the start of VOICES in 1992)," Alabama Kids Count Director Apreill Hartsfield said. "But we need to continue to demonstrate child well being and family stability. Families do better if in a supportive community, and the well-being of a child is tied in with the family."

Kids Count is one of VOICES' nine major programs in the state. Other programs include: Children's Issues Public Awareness Campaign, Children's Legislative Agenda, Legislative Advocacy, Children's Legislative Report, Regional Meetings of Child Advocates, Kids and Kin Program, Brain Train and Alabama Birth-to-Five Initiative.

Alabama's well-being ranking for children is 48th in the nation, with plenty of room for improvement, said Hartsfield.

"We don't have the money needed in the state right now for these kids," she said. "Economic success and financial stability in the family are crucial for the well-being of children."

The passage of Amendment 1 would help families save money for the well being of children, however, added Hartsfield. She said although the organization in which she works won't be affected, many state-funded organizations for children would.

"If children of Alabama could vote, they would say yes to Amendment 1," Linda Tilly, Executive Director of Voices, said. "The health and viability of every state service for children is depending on the passage of Amendment 1. VOICES for Alabama's Children urges parents and grandparents to VOTE YES next Tuesday."

"The money from the tax (referendum) would put money back into the families," Hartsfield said. "The burden of low-income families paying state-income taxes (which currently starts at an income of $4,000 per year, the lowest threshold in the nation) would be abolished. That money, along with the money back from property tax breaks, would go back to the families. The overall care and situation of the kids of these families would then improve."

Not only will the referendum boost education, but also the well-being of the kids in the state, said Hartsfield.

"I predict national rankings of kids' welfare in the state would improve (with the passage of the referendum)," she said. "The passage would indicate a fair shift of tax burdens of families currently suffering from poverty."

The 2003 Data Book researched by VOICES concluded health and security are most important in a child's life, Hartsfield noted.

"Health and security measures are the most important factors for children's well-being," she said. "They are both correlated and essential for a kid."

District Court Judge Frank "Trippy" McGuire, Chairman of Covington County Children Policy Council, said the safety of a kid at school is insured through grants.

"The council provides grants which help provide safety at the shcools, including cameras on the busses for all three local school systems," McGuire said. "I'm happy to be a part of an organization to address needs of children, but there is always room for improvement."