State 47th in Caring for Children Poverty Takes Toll; School Dropouts Plague Jacksonville

By Halton, Beau | The Florida Times Union, May 6, 1997 | Go to article overview

State 47th in Caring for Children Poverty Takes Toll; School Dropouts Plague Jacksonville


Halton, Beau, The Florida Times Union


Even though Florida's pregnant mothers and newborns are getting

more attention than in the past, the state continues to rank

near the bottom nationally in taking care of its children, a

report released yesterday said.

Thirteen percent of Florida children -- about one in eight --

grow up in extreme poverty, defined as about $7,000 for a family

of four, the report said.

Trends in the report are evident in Jacksonville, where

programs are offering excellent care for babies and new mothers,

but the city is still seen as having a serious school dropout

problem, officials said.

Florida moved up one notch in the annual ranking of the states

and the District of Columbia based on 10 key indicators of child

well-being. The state came in 47th in the survey ofchildren's

health, family security and schooling.

The slight gain in the Kids Count survey by Baltimore-based

Annie E. Casey Foundation "is still a far cry from where we

should be, and could be, relative to our potential," said Jack

Levine, executive director of the Florida Center for Children

and Youth.

He blamed Florida's low ranking on the fact that during the

1980s, when the number of infants and toddlers surged about 74

percent, the state didn't provide the financial support to take

care of them.

"But the good news is that we have made significant progress in

infant health care, and reduced the children's death rate,"

Levine said.

Children's programs fared better in the legislative session

ended Friday, Levine said. He pointed to expansions of the

Healthy Start program for pregnant women and children, Healthy

Kids health-care coverage for children of the working poor, and

child-care for working parents.

Thanks in part to the Healthy Start program, Jacksonville and

the entire state have the lowest infant mortality rates they've

ever had, said Carol Brady, director of the Northeast Florida

Healthy Start Coalition. In 1988, Jacksonville had 12.3 deaths

per thousand births; that decreased to 7.9 by last year, she

said. The national average is 7.5.

But Jacksonville's older children are still a problem.

"We've always been concerned about school dropouts in

Jacksonville," Levine said. "The numbers have always been

consistent; the Duval district has not successfully served

teenagers at risk in the school system. …

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