(GoUpstate) – South Carolina has made strides when it comes to children living in poverty, children with health insurance, teen births and high school graduation rates, according to a report that will be released Tuesday.The Palmetto State was ranked 39th nationally for overall child well-being, according the 2017 Kids Count Data Book, a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation has provided the annual report since 1990 to show how American children and families fare in every state.
Sue Williams, CEO of the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, said her organization is encouraged by a number of items in the report, including a 40-percent decline in the state’s teen birth rate from 2010-15.Williams also noted that since 2010, the state has seen a 14 percent decline in the number of children whose head of household lacks a high school diploma.
Still, the state has room to improve, particularly in early childhood education. Data shows the number of 3- and 4-year-old children not in school has risen by 10 percent since 2010.“We see slow and steady progress toward improving child well-being in South Carolina, especially where we are making investments in prevention and using proactive policies that work to support children and families,” Williams said.
Research shows that growing up in poverty can increase the chance of teenage pregnancy or dropping out of school, among other things.In 2015, about one in five children were living in poverty in South Carolina. The state’s child poverty rate has dropped 8 percent since 2010.
“I would say that the state is on the right track for most of its outcomes,” said Whitney Tucker, policy and research associate with the Children’s Trust. “The state has improved in most areas, and overall I think the biggest changes we’re seeing are things related to the economy.”
Data in the Kids Count report shows from 2010-15, South Carolina saw more children with parents having secure employment, more teenagers in school and working, and fewer children living in households with high housing costs.
Williams said the state’s newly passed Earned Income Tax Credit for working families will further help reduce child and family poverty. “The (tax credit) was included as part of the recent roads bill to ensure that the state’s investment in infrastructure would not be borne disproportionately by lower-income working families,” she said.
Educators attest that a solid start in early childhood education can help children stay in school, graduate on time and pursue higher education. “If you can start when children are young, you’re more likely to have some of these positive outcomes on the back end,” Tucker said. Since 2010, more South Carolina fourth graders are proficient in reading and more high school students are graduating on time, according to the Kids Count report.
But the report shows since 2010 the state has seen a rise in the number of eighth graders not proficient in math. “Our state really has a long way to go, particularly in terms of education,” Tucker said. “Our number of young children not in school really needs a lot of work.”
From 2013-15, about 55 percent of the state’s children ages 3 and 4 were not attending school, according to the report.
Health, family, community
Factors like poor nutrition, inadequate housing and lack of preventive health care affect a child’s development and life expectancy. Since 2010 in South Carolina, there have been fewer babies born with a low birth weight, more children who’ve gotten health insurance and fewer teenagers abusing alcohol or drugs, according to the Kids Count report. “We’re seeing an increase in the state’s family stability across the board, but an incredible difference in the teen birth rate,” Tucker said.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation credits public programs as playing an important role in reducing teen births. Spartanburg-based Birth Matters provides a voluntary community-based doula program for low-income expectant moms age 24 and younger. A doula is someone who emotionally supports the mother and family before and after pregnancy.
The free program provides reproductive health education on topics like birth control and subsequent pregnancies.“
Data confirms the program services are working in Spartanburg,” said Molly Chappell-McPhail, executive director of Birth Matters. “Our Birth Matters services reach the most vulnerable youth to ensure teen birth rates continue to decline.”