Is Texas Bad for Kids?

A new report from Texans Care for Children shows kids faring poorly

Children in Texas are more likely to be born underweight, grow up in poverty, and face underfunded health and mental services than the national average. Those are just some of the worrying statistics in the 2009 "Children's Campaign Report" issued by advocacy group Texans Care for Children – just in time for the start of the 81st Legislature. The body's executive director, Eileen Garcia-Matthews, said she hopes legislators will look at these statistics and reform the state's provisions for children with "a comprehensive plan, rather than the piecemeal approach we have now."

Collated from state and federal sources, the report compares year-to-year changes against Texas' own record and the national average. It shows that many baseline problems in child development remain untackled, while improvements in some areas have not stopped the state from trailing in national rankings. Garcia-Matthews called the report's contents "markers for where the system is letting people down."

The failures are serious: Texas was worst in the nation in several categories, including teen pregnancies, high school completion, children without health insurance, and adults in the criminal justice system – a significant issue because 56% of inmates incarcerated in state or federal prisons have children under the age of 18. Most worrying for Garcia-Matthews are trends in infant mortality: While still below the current national average of 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, the rate in Texas has risen from 5.7 in 2000 to 6.6 in 2006. "When you look at indicators that say something about a society, for us to move from ninth to 21st, that says there's something wrong," she said.

It's not all bad news. Child-support collections soared from 28.7% in 2000 to 67.8% in 2005, well ahead of the national average of 54.5%. Much of the credit for this issue has been given to Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has made the issue a cornerstone of his office. Garcia-Matthews said she hopes that the Legislature will follow his example. She noted, "When leaders said, 'We care about these things,' they invested, and we saw improvements." See the full report at www.texanscareforchildren.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texans Care for Children, Eileen Garcia-Matthews, Greg Abbott, 81st legislature

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