Laura Colbert credits her two dogs, Mud and Ginger, with helping her maintain her own health and work-life balance in the face of numerous pressing priorities.
By Taifa Butler
Every summer when the Annie E. Casey Foundation releases its national KIDS COUNT Data Book, which profiles the status of children in all 50 states, I give an account of Georgia’s children. It’s a tale filled with promise yet overshadowed by unrelenting challenges for us all. Georgia’s children are better off than they were since the first publication of the Data Book 21 years ago, but we have a long way to go to improve health outcomes for our kids.
The 2010 KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Georgia 42 out of 50 states on 10 critical areas related to health, safety, education, and employment. Georgia has historically ranked in the bottom ten states. For the past three years we’ve teetered between 41 and 43. Some would say we’ve hit a plateau, while our evaluators tell us that to break out of the bottom—we were ranked 50th in the first report—is a phenomenal feat given Georgia’s context.
Since 2000, Georgia improved in areas of infant mortality, child and teen deaths, teens having babies, and high-school dropouts. I delight in that good news.
We saw declines in the rate of low-birthweight babies and child poverty, while the rate of single-parent families stayed the same. Amid these findings, Georgia still remains worse than the national average on all 10 areas compared in the report. And this was before the economic downturn.
When we look more closely at the trends, we’re beginning to see these improvements slipping, and we’re concerned that once the economic downturn is factored in, we’ll see children faring worse. The interesting part is that this is happening nationwide, so Georgia is not alone.
What was new for us this year was how our story played out on the international stage. The media in Europe and the Middle East picked up the story about Georgia’s ranking and the state of our children. The headlines read: ‘Kids Count Data Book’ Finds Northern States Most Conscious of Childcare and For children Northern states are best. Oh my word! Northern states vs. Georgia.
These stories highlight how Georgia ranked 42nd overall and included other key areas like infant mortality, teen births, and teens not in school and not working.
We’ve talked about this on the national stage for so long, that I never considered how this would play globally. Georgia wants to be a state that attracts employers and businesses abroad, but if this is their impression of how we care for our children and families, how can we attract business to Georgia to create jobs and bring in new industries?
Georgia’s economic vitality depends on the well-being of our children and youth. As the Georgia KIDS COUNT grantee, we will continue to sound the alarm and offer the best ideas and best practices that are necessary to improve the well-being of our children. We must work together on every level, even in the face of our state’s fiscal challenges.
We can’t afford to let any of these critical indicators drop from our radar screen. The question remains whether Georgia can sustain its improvements with diminishing state revenues, continuing state budget cuts, and joblessness that affects each family’s livelihood.
We must work in partnership to achieve our common purpose of moving Georgia’s children to a healthy future. We have miles to go…
For more on Georgia KIDS COUNT, visit gafcp.org/kidscount.
Taifa Butler is the Policy and Communications Director for Georgia Family Connection Partnership.