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Texas' Child Well-Being Report Card Mixed

Teens less likely to die since 2000, but infant mortality up

By Wells Dunbar, Fri., Nov. 25, 2005

Are children improving over time, or are things getting worse? A recent report, "KIDS COUNT: The State of Texas Children 2005," seeks to answer this important question. The study, undertaken by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, returns a mixed verdict: There are encouraging developments for Texas' teen population, yet financial reality intrudes upon many families, manifesting in an oftentimes deadly manner for Texas children.

Child well-being is tied to several measures, but Frances Deviney, Texas Kids Count director, said it moves most with the economy. "When families do better, kids do better." One clear instance of improvement is an overall decline in teen violent deaths, down 9% from 2000 to 2003. Deviney attributes the decline to the implementation of graduated driver's licenses, like those that don't allow newbie drivers to drive at night – auto deaths account for most teen violent deaths, along with murder and suicide. Also encouraging is a "consistent decline" in teen dropout and birth rates, down 10%. "We can debate abstinence-only education, versus taking a more holistic approach [to birth control]," said Deviney of Texas' puritanical approach to sex ed. "Even though that argument won out [in Texas], it stepped up the efforts of a lot of nonprofits [to provide information on contraceptives]." Texas has begun making strides in education, with Deviney noting TAKS scores on the upswing, and the state's dropout rate falling 46% from 2000 to last year.

More troubling is an increase in poverty for Texas children, edging up from 20.7% to 21.3% in 2002, the last year completely available. If the fact that one in five Texas children lives in poverty isn't startling enough, another comparison drives the point home: one in nine poverty-stricken children, nationwide, lives in Texas (for some perspective, poverty is defined as a family of three making less than $16,900 annually). Unsurprisingly, this has serious effects – the percentage of children without health insurance is roughly equal to the number of kids in poverty, at 21%. Another related, and more ominous result, is the number of infants that died in Texas before their first birthday – 2,500, up 17% from 2000. African-American children are twice as likely as other children to die before turning one.

The report, and more, is available at www.aecf.org/kidscount, which also offers assessments and comparisons of Texas' 254 counties.

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