08/07 - Louisiana’s Children: A Future at Risk

Why does our state rank 49th overall in child welfare issues?

When it comes to the future of a community or a state, nothing is more important than the welfare of the children - they are the future. By many indicators, Louisiana has not done well by its children. Find out why our state ranks 49th overall in child welfare issues on "Louisiana's Children: A Future At Risk" on the August edition of Louisiana Public Square.

Panelists

* Darryl McDaniels of the pioneering rap group Run DMC. An adoptee himself, he has been a major advocate for foster care and adoption including establishing a summer camp for foster children.
* Ann Silverberg Williamson - Louisiana Department of Social Services Director
* Raymond Jetson, the CEO of Louisiana Family Recovery Corps
* Teresa Falgoust, the "Kids Count" Coordinator with the child advocacy group, "Agenda For Children."

Program aired August 22 at 7:00 pm.

Backgrounder

When it comes to the future of a community or a state, nothing is more important than the wellbeing of its children - they are the future. But according to many indicators, Louisiana has not done well in providing an environment for their success.

Rankings
For the last 6 years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation – a national child advocacy group - has ranked measures of child well-being among all states in its annual KIDS COUNT Data Book.
Among the ratings that Louisiana received:

Health: Louisiana ranks 50th for the number of infant deaths and 49th in the percentage of babies born with low birth weight.

Poverty: Louisiana ranked 49th in three poverty-related factors for children’s well-being. Forty-two percent of Louisiana’s children live in single-parent households - a factor which contributes to a high rate of low-income families; forty-two percent live in households where no parent has fulltime year round employment and 28 percent live in poverty, meaning that household income is less than $19,806 per year for a family of four. The state ranked 44th in the number of babies born to teen mothers – an improvement from prior years.

Foster Care. According to the report, Louisiana’s number of children in foster care - 6 children per 1,000- is below the national average of 10 per 1,000.

Positives
- Louisiana has shown a reduction in its number of teen births, high school dropout rates and teen employment according to the KIDS COUNT Data Book.
- The Blanco administration has made improving vaccination rates for children a priority. During her term, Louisiana has risen 17 percentage points in national rankings for the number of child immunizations.
- Louisiana’s Child Welfare Agency/Foster Care System is one of only three in the nation to be accredited and is currently undergoing a massive redesign initiative to make it better.
- Louisiana ranks in the top half of the country as far as providing insurance coverage to uninsured children through its LAChip program. Since the program began in the late 1990s, the percent of uninsured children in low-income Louisiana families has declined from 31.6 percent to 12.5. The recent legislative session expanded the LAChip program eligibility to children in families of four whose annual income is $61,950 a year. Previous eligibility was $41,304.

The federal program, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provides free or low-cost health care for more than 6 million children, will expire Sept. 30 unless Congress acts. President Bush has promised to veto any SCHIP funding above his proposed $5 billion increase. His supporters say the program should focus only on children in low-income families and that expanding eligibility to children in families with higher income only causes them to drop private insurance in favor of government-run, taxpayer-funded health care. If the federal bill is not reauthorized, Louisiana will continue to cover the children currently in the LaCHIP program, but will not expand it further.

Challenges
KIDS COUNT recommends “to work towards the goal of preserving, strengthening and rebuilding families or finding permanent homes for every American child at risk of not having one.” Some of the challenges that Louisiana faces in achieving that goal are touched on below.



Healthcare: Dr. Joan Wightkin, with Louisiana’s Office of Public Health notes, “…We rank 50th in infant mortality. We have a long road ahead of us to address that. However, on the health care side, we rank 8th for getting women in early for pre-natal care and having the right number of visits. So there’s a disconnect in prevention and in education…”

According to the 2005 Governor’s Summit on Solutions to Poverty Summary Report, “Louisiana has an excellent prenatal program – LaMOMS – but not enough pregnant women access this effective program’s services.”

Foster Care: While the number of children living in foster care in Louisiana has increased by more than 20 percent in the last three years, the number of certified foster homes has actually declined by nearly 38 percent during the same period. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita exacerbated the problem by forcing some foster families to downsize to smaller housing - which limited the amount of children they could handle. The Department of Social Services has just recently launched a campaign, "Today's Foster Care: Your Love Will Make All The Difference In Their World" to bolster recruitment.

Child Care: With 65% of all Louisiana children under six living in households where there is no “stay-at-home” parent, child care programs are essential for working parents. In fact, 78 percent of children under 5 are cared for on a regular basis by someone other than their parent or guardian in Louisiana. But In a recent report by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, Louisiana ranked 51st in child care center standards and oversight (the Department of Defense and Washington D.C. were also ranked).

Louisiana’s median wage for child care personnel is the lowest in the nation. Low wages make it very difficult for child care centers to attract staff with sufficient qualifications which is a barrier to ensuring high quality care. And due to the large caseload-to-inspector ratios, the 2006 Agenda for Children Louisiana Kids Count Special Report on Child Care notes that “the state’s Bureau of Licensing still falls far short of the level needed to ensure effective regulation and oversight.” Child care costs and transportation challenges can also limit the range of choices for low income parents. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, 13% of parents in Louisiana reported that child care problems had caused them to quit, not take, or leave a job.

Poverty: Is more government assistance the solution to taking children out of poverty? And how effective are these types of programs? According to State Senator Sharon Weston Broome, “A lot of the data certainly shows that children who are in two parent households certainly thrive better in their development.” But she notes one of the government programs created to assist poor families – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANIF) may have exacerbated the problem, “In order for you to receive assistance there had to be one parent in the household, thus taking the father out of the household. They realized after years of doing that that they were dismantling the family. So they shifted... the encouragement was to move forward to two parent households. I think that shift was a little late.”

The Governor’s Summit on Solutions to Poverty Summary Report notes, “Finding cash for low-income residents is a day-to-day strategy. A better solution would be to raise income levels for Louisiana residents, helping each Louisiana citizen to become more capable of supporting him or herself and further climbing the ladder of economic success.”

Conclusion
The children of today will be leading and serving Louisiana tomorrow. Their well-being is in all of our hands, says Marketa Gautreau with Louisiana’s Department of Social Services, “…a state system can never do everything that a child needs. It’s physically impossible. We will never have enough money or staff or resources to raise a child in a state system. That takes a community.”





RESOURCES

The National Child Care Information Center at (800) 616-2242 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
State Contacts List

* Child and Adult Care Food Program: State Contacts
http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Contacts/StateDirectory.htm
703-305-2062
* Child Support Enforcement Agency: State Contacts
http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cse/extinf.htm
* Early Care and Education (ECE) Professional Development Web Sites
http://nccic.org/pubs/goodstart/state-ece.html
800-616-2242
* Even Start State Coordinators and Federal Program Contacts
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oese/sasa/escontacts.html
202-260-0826
* Head Start - State Collaboration Offices
http://www.hsnrc.org/content/index2.cfm?DocumentID=6566&z=99
202-205-8085
* KIDS COUNT Projects
http://www.aecf.org/kidscount/contacts.htm
410-547-6600
* National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (contacts)
http://naecs.crc.uiuc.edu/index.html
517-373-8483
* National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities State Resource Sheets
http://www.nichcy.org/states.htm
800-695-0285
* Selected State Early Learning Guidelines on the Web
http://www.nccic.org/pubs/goodstart/elgwebsites.html
800-616-2242
* State Early Childhood Comprehensive System (SECCS) Planning Grants: Contact List Approved Grants Project Contacts
http://www.state-eccs.org/contact.htm
919-962-2001
* State Funded Prekindergarten and Early Learning Offices
http://www.ecs.org/dbsearches/Map_Searches/SRCH_DB_EarlyLearning.htm
303-299-3600
* State Toll-Free Child Abuse Reporting Numbers
http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_dsp.cfm?rs_id=5&rate_chno=11-11172
800-422-4453

This material is for informational purposes only. No official endorsement of any practice, publication, program, or individual by the Louisiana Public Broadcasting is intended or is to be inferred..

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