Previous investments in the health and education of children in North Carolina have generated dividends, according to a new report  by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. But those returns stand in jeopardy due to recent state budget cuts and eroding family economic security.
The 23rd annual KIDS COUNT Data Book offers a sophisticated view of child well-being, swapping the report’s standard 10 indicator analysis for an index of 16 indicators grouped into four domains: Health, Economic Well-Being, Education, and Family and Community. The report shows North Carolina lands in the middle of the pack in Health (26) and Education (25), but lags behind in Economic Well-Being (35) and Family and Community (36).
North Carolina ranks 34th out of 50 states in overall child well-being.
“The 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book shows mixed progress for children in North Carolina,” said Deborah Bryan, President and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina , a statewide child policy, research, and advocacy organization and home of the NC KIDS COUNT project. “Although changes in the Data Book prevent us from comparing this rank to previous years, the trend within many indicators, particularly those of economic well-being, show North Carolina children are losing important ground.”
Economic indicators, like the share of children living in poverty or whose parents lack full-time employment, are bellwethers, signaling looming challenges that upset other areas of child well-being long before their effects are captured in the data.
Other state findings in the 2012 Data Book include:
* One in four children in North Carolina (25 percent) lives in poverty. Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development. Poverty is strongly associated with poor outcomes for children as they transition into adulthood. And one in 11 children in North Carolina now lives in high-poverty communities.
* Despite a continued loss of employer-sponsored health insurance for children and families due to persistent unemployment and declining employer participation, children’s access to health coverage was bolstered by Medicaid and N.C. Health Choice–the state children’s health insurance program. Over 1 million children in North Carolina, more than four in every ten children in the state, receive access to health insurance through these programs.
* In education, an area that has been called North Carolina’s brand, the state broke into the top 20 performing states in two indicators: fourth grade reading proficiency and eighth graders proficient in math.
“For more than two decades, North Carolina made intentional, sustained investments in programs that help improve the health and education of our children,” said Bryan. “Examples include the NC Healthy Start Foundation, which supports better birth outcomes and saves the state money through lower healthcare costs, and pre-k programs, which help narrow reading and math achievement gaps and increase the state’s graduation rate.”
“Many of these investments,” Bryan continued, “have been eliminated or severely cut during the past two legislative sessions.”
The 2012 Data Book comes on the heels of a short legislative session that left children in North Carolina worse for the wear. After overriding a budget veto by Governor Perdue, the General Assembly enacted a budget that eliminated all state funding to the NC Healthy Start Foundation, made deep cuts to education, and scaled back critical prevention programming.
“Without a change in course from our elected leaders and recommitment to preserving the future health and prosperity of our state–our children,” said Bryan, “we can expect to see the damaging effects of these budget choices appear in future versions of the Data Book. North Carolina can, and must, do better for our children.”
To view the 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book, visit the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s website at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/DataBook/2012/Default.aspx .