The 2015 Kansas KIDS COUNT report compiled by Kansas Action for Children reveals troubling trends for young children in Kansas.
“This is more than just a set of data points,” said Kansas Action for Children President & CEO Shannon Cotsoradis. “This report represents pivotal moments in a child’s early years that can determine his or her entire life trajectory.” Referencing growing up healthy, going to college, falling into the corrections system or relying on public assistance as an adult, Cotsoradis contends that “overwhelmingly, these outcomes can be traced back to their life circumstances as a young child.”
Referencing data specific to Sedgwick County, Teresa Rupp, Executive Director of Child Star, KIDS COUNT partner Sedgwick County, commented, “We are extremely concerned about the trends reflected in this year’s report.”
Of major concern in Sedgwick County is the exceedingly high childhood poverty rate. In Sedgwick County, 22.06% of children under 18 live below 100% poverty. Sedgwick County, unfortunately exceeds its peer counties and the State overall in this poverty rate.
Statewide, there was a slight decrease in child poverty. But Cotsoradis says Kansas is still experiencing high levels of poverty that don’t reflect the nation’s economic recovery.
“I hesitate to call it good news,” she says. “Even though we do appear to be moving in the right direction, we are still well about pre-recession levels, at 17.72 percent, and surrounding states are making progress faster than we are.”
Cotsoradis says Kansas had a child poverty rate of about 15% prior to the recession.
“Pre-recession levels of poverty is what we would be looking for, and that’s not what we’re seeing in the release of this year’s report,” she says. “This certainly goes well beyond the current (Gov. Sam Brownback) administration. This is a trend we’ve been watching in Kansas for more than a decade.”
But Cotsoradis worries about recent changes in the state’s eligibility rules for programs intended to help families living in poverty. Fewer children are receiving benefits from the Kansas Temporary Assistance for Families Program (TANF) and from the Kansas Child Care Assistance program – not because fewer children are in need, but because fewer families can meet the more stringent eligibility guidelines implemented by Kansas over the past five years.
“We actually want those kids to be accessing child care assistance,” Cotsoradis says. “We want those families to be accessing temporary assistance. We want children growing up in poverty to have access to Early Head Start and Head Start, because we know those are the things that make the difference – that really change the trajectory of a child’s life.”
This data should be of concern to all of us who understand that helping children early in life leads to success and that not doing so leads to higher rates of incarceration, lower employment opportunities and earnings, as well as higher rates of drug abuse, depression, and behavior problems that affect school success,” says Rupp.”
Some other facts from the KIDS COUNT REPORT
- 49.97% of Kansas public school children are participating in the free and reduced price lunch program reflecting an increase from the previous year.
- Enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program increased to 55,469 Kansas children, up 3,845 children since 2010.
- Trends in both the Early Head Start and Head Start numbers reflect the increasing numbers of children eligible for the programs but who cannot be served because budgets for these services have not increased to meet the growing need.