Editorial: Kids count; let’s serve and save them

(Annie E. Casey Foundation photo)

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Texas ranks 43rd nationally in the well-being of its children—ahead only of four Deep South neighbors and three Southwestern states. We must do better.

knox newMarv KnoxThe Annie E. Casey Foundation compiled results of national research about children in its annual Kids Count Data Book. Texas’ best ranking in five categories of child well-being is 32nd. How can a proud, competitive state stand itself? 

The report covers 2014 and 2105, the latest years for which national information is available. Here’s a breakdown of how Texas children are faring:

Economic well-being — 33rd

In Texas, 1,729,000 children, or 25 percent of the total, lived in poverty. They are children under age 18 in families with incomes below the U.S. poverty threshold, or $24,008 for a family of four. “Researchers estimate families need an income at least twice the federal poverty level—$48,016—to cover basic expenses for housing, food, transportation, health care and child care,” the Casey Foundation noted. (National average: 22 percent)

The parents of 2,036,000 Texas children, 29 percent, lacked secure employment, with no parent holding a regular, full-time, year-round job. (National average: 30 percent)

A third of Texas children, 2,321,000, lived in households with a “high housing cost burden,” where more than 30 percent of monthly pre-tax income was spent on housing expenses. (National average: 35 percent)

Education — 32nd

Almost a half-million young Texas children—472,000, or 58 percent—were not in school from 2012 to 2014. These were children ages 3 and 4 not enrolled in school—nursery school, preschool or kindergarten—during the previous three months. (National average: 53 percent)

An estimated 69 percent of fourth graders were not proficient in reading, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. (National average: 65 percent)

Similarly, 68 percent of eighth graders were not proficient in math. (National average: 68 percent)

Sixteen percent of high school students did not graduate on time, four years. (National average: 18 percent)

Health — 38th

Across Texas, 32,744 babies—or 8.2 percent—were born weighing less than 5.5 pounds. (National average: 8.0 percent)

More than three-quarters of a million Texas children—784,000, or 11 percent—were not insured. (National average: 6 percent)

A total of 1,863 children between birth and age 19 died, a death rate of 25 per 1,000. (National rate: 24 per 1,000)

Five percent of Texas teens—115,000—from age 12 to 17 reported dependence on or abuse of illicit drugs or alcohol. (National average: 5 percent)

Family and community — 47th

A total of 2,416,000 Texas children—36 percent—lived in single-parent families, including cohabiting couples, but not married stepparents. (National average: 35 percent)

Twenty-two percent of Texas children—1,536,000—were part of families where the household head had not earned a high school diploma. (National average: 14 percent)

Texas children living in high-poverty areas totaled 1,329,000, or 19 percent. A “high-poverty area” is defined as a census tract where the poverty rate of the total population is 30 percent or more. (National average: 14 percent)

Teen girls ages 15 to 19 gave birth to 35,063 children. That was a rate of 38 births per 1,000 girls. (National rate: 24 per 1,000)

Overall well-being — 43rd

The Casey Foundation created the overall ranking by adding each state’s scores on the four key indicators, then comparing that total to the totals of all states.

Texas improved in some areas, according to Texas Monthly: Since 2008, Texas recorded a 3 percent drop in teens who used or abused drugs. The on-time graduation rate increased from 73 percent to 84 percent. Children who do not have health insurance declined by 400,000.

Overall, the national numbers are discouraging. Despite political clamor, the United States is prosperous and healthy. Texas takes pride in its proactive economic posture. But too many of our children lag behind.

What can we do?

The Casey Foundation’s report should disturb Christians who take Jesus seriously. We must do more to help vulnerable children.

Many churches have reached out to help children and their families. We can strengthen and expand the ministries to our little sisters and brothers:

• Support Texas Baptists’ agencies that serve children and families—BCFS, formerly Baptist Child & Family Services; Buckner International; Children at Heart Ministries; and South Texas Children’s Home Ministries.

• Provide preschool, tutoring and mentoring programs that help children hope, learn and improve in school.

• Offer parenting, jobs-skills and mentoring programs to help parents support their children.

• Operate meals programs, food and clothes pantries, and emergency services that rescue families on the edge of disaster.

Christians also can lend their voices to larger endeavors that aid children. These involve public education and government assistance. Christians, including Texas Baptists, do not totally agree on these programs. But some systemic weaknesses are beyond the scope of churches alone to fix. Christians must exercise the stewardship of our voices and advocate on behalf of the poor and powerless—particularly children.

Follow Marv Knox on twitter: @marvknoxbs

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