By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE â€“ Children in Rhode Island saw improvements in health and education, and declines in safety and economic well-being in the last year, according to the 2011 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook.
The 17th annual benchmark report on childrenâ€™s health and well-being, which charts 67 different aspects of childrenâ€™s lives, was released Monday at a policy breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Providence Warwick in Warwick. The event was attended by more than 500 community and business leaders, including Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.
â€śWe know what children need to grow up healthy, safe, and educated and ready to contribute to our economy,â€ť said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count. In these difficult economic times, she continued, â€śit is especially important to protect public investments in the services and supports that ensure opportunity for all children.â€ť
The Kids Count Factbook indicators are grouped into five interrelated categories: family and community, economic well-being, health, safety and education.
Among the improvements noted in the report were increases in reading proficiency for fourth-grade students, particularly for core city school districts, which from 2005 to 2010 have increased from 39 percent to 54 percent.
â€śWhile we are seeing improvements in reading proficiency rates throughout the state, the core cities are where we are seeing the largest gains,â€ť said Bryant. â€śOur state will benefit economically if these gains continue and accelerate.â€ť
Many of the serious challenges facing Rhode Islandâ€™s children are safety issues related to child abuse and neglect. The report found that in 2010 in Rhode Island, 3,414 children under the age of 18 were victims of child abuse or neglect â€“ and almost half were children under the age of 6. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of investigations of children abuse and neglect increased 25 percent.
In addition, in 2010, 1,150 Rhode Island children stayed at emergency homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and transitional housing programs. School personnel identified 996 children as homeless.
Bryant attributed the increasing problem to the difficult economy. â€śRhode Islandâ€™s high unemployment rate, lack of affordable housing and high foreclosure rate contribute to the high number of children and families experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island,â€ť she said.
Ralph Smith, executive vice president of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, delivered the keynote address at the policy breakfast. â€śIf we want our nation to succeed economically, we must increase our high school graduation rates, and to do that we need to ensure that more children are reading by the end of third grade,â€ť Smith said. â€śWe must back it up even further by making sure that families with young children have the supports and services they need to ensure healthy child development from birth to third grade.â€ť