Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 12, 2008: Quality of life for Ohio kids is slipping

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Posted by dpolveri June 12, 2008 05:00AM

The quality of life for kids in Ohio has fallen to its lowest point ever, according to a national report that measures the well-being of children.

Ohio was ranked 30th by Kids Count, put out annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Its highest ranking was 26th in 2002. In a five-year span, Ohio’s infant mortality rate and the number of low-birth-weight babies and teen deaths have worsened.

In the past six years, the percent of children living in poverty and in homes where parents don’t have stable full-time employment has risen by double digits.

But there was some positive news: fewer teens giving birth and dropping out of school.

State officials say they know of the struggles Ohio’s children face and are trying to improve their lives.

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For example, last month they convened the first Ohio Summit on Children, led by Gov. Ted Strickland and Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer. As a result, many of those issues will be addressed by county teams that will identify the most pressing problems and possible solutions.

Here’s a look at some of the survey’s findings:


Finding: More babies born in Ohio die before their first birthday than they do nationally. Between 2000 and 2005, the national infant mortality rate was stable, but in Ohio it rose by 9 percent.

Dr. John Moore, director of neonatology at MetroHeath Medical Center and a professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University, said the story behind the statistic is complicated.

Overall, infant mortality has declined in the past decade, likely because of better access to prenatal care and education about the risks of using alcohol and drugs during pregnancy.

But for infants from birth to 28 days old, deaths have risen in Ohio because more of them were born prematurely. More survive birth than in past years because of medical technology and Ohio’s aggressive neonatal doctors.

Also, in areas with many blacks, more babies are born prematurely — which researchers believe may be genetic — and the mortality rate is much higher in that population.


Finding: The number of births among teens 15 to 19 has dropped in Ohio and nationally. The number has dropped more than 15 percent in Ohio and 17 percent nationally in the five years surveyed.

But the numbers may be on the rise. Centers for Disease Control numbers for 2006 show an increase for the first time in a decade, up 3 percent nationally.

“We do expect locally for the birthrate to be down,” said Tonya Block, project director of Cuyahoga County’s Teen Wellness Initiative. “The challenge is that we are seeing the STD and HIV numbers going up.”

Block said there is more user-friendly birth control, such as patches and shots. But the most effective change has been the $1 million yearly investment by the county for comprehensive sexual education in schools that calls for abstinence and condom use.


Findings: Ohio’s dropout rate has improved by 50 percent in five years — only 5 percent of high school students drop out.

While the Ohio Department of Education doesn’t keep track of dropouts, only graduates, it is agreed that more high school students are graduating than before.

The state has started several programs aimed at increasing high school graduation rates, said Scott Blake, a Department of Education spokesman. Schools can better identify students who need additional help in the early grades.

“By intervening earlier, you can help the child get up to grade level before they fall too far behind, become discouraged and possibly dropout,” Blake said.


Finding: The number of kids living in poverty and unstable homes has outpaced the national average.

In 2006, 34 percent of children lived in homes with parents who didn’t have stable employment, and 19 percent of children in Ohio lived in poverty. Nationally, averages are just slightly lower — about 1 percent each — but have gotten worse faster.

The state is now at the point where strategies have to be formed to meet people’s basic needs of housing and food, said Crystal Ward Allen of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. It is important to avoid letting bad news about jobs, the economy and housing prevent action, she said.

“That would be hopelessness,” she said. “And we can’t afford that.”

In recent weeks, Strickland has ordered that a poverty task force be formed, meet and return to him with recommendations.

Education Reporter Jennifer Gonzalez contributed to this story.

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