Washington Post, January 18, 2008: One-Third of Children in Poverty, Report Says

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By Yolanda Woodlee

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, January 18, 2008; B04

One in three children in the District continues to live in poverty, and there has been a slight increase in the city’s overall poverty rate, according to the D.C. Kids Count Collaborative, whose leaders warned of tragic consequences unless parents get help in coping with stress.

The group’s 14th annual fact book, released yesterday, shows a mixed picture — entrenched poverty alongside some positive shifts — as it details the conditions in which many D.C. children live.

More than one-third of African American children still live below the federal poverty level, the report says, and more than half of the children live in homes with single mothers.

Infant mortality increased in 2005, the highest level since 2000. From 2005 to 2006, child-abuse cases increased 6 percent but neglect complaints decreased. The number of young adults ages 19 to 21 in foster care rose to 12 percent in 2006 from 8 percent in 2003, the report notes. It also indicates that the number of juveniles referred to D.C. Superior Court increased in 2006 after having held steady in 2005.

But the report also shows gains. Enrollment in the Head Start program increased 9 percent during the 2006 school year, up nearly 1,000 children from 2005, the report says. And more children were deemed ready for school, with the District meeting the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s goal of having more than 95 percent of kindergartners vaccinated for the first time. The city’s summer youth program had 12,729 participants in 2007, more than double the number in 2003.

Although the number of new cases of AIDS among young adults remained steady, the diagnosis of some sexually transmitted diseases fell by as much as 13 percent from 2005 to 2006.

The number of children eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families decreased from 29,741 in 2006 to 28,212 in 2007.

There was also a drop in the number of families living on the streets or in emergency shelters. In January 2007, there were 400 fewer homeless people than the year before, the report says.

While noting the indicators of success, Kinaya Sokoya, executive director of the D.C. Children’s Trust Fund, said the District must continue to battle the deep-rooted poverty in the city and its effects on youths and families.

“The fact that one out of three children in our city lives in poverty is quite troubling and has a cyclical effect,” she said. “Child poverty is linked with other negative outcomes, such as poor nutrition in infancy, increased chances of poor academic performance and emotional distress.”

Sokoya said the report shows that parents are living in stressful situations and that the city and other service providers must offer assistance “as opposed to waiting until it’s too late.”

In 2006, the Child and Family Services Agency hotline received 3,180 calls about child neglect and 2,441 calls about physical or sexual abuse, according to the report.

Poverty is one of the key factors that can lead to child abuse and neglect, said Victoria Casey, chairman of the D.C. Children’s Trust Fund, which is part of the collaborative. Single-head households, teenage pregnancies, substance abuse and stress are among others.

“We are aware of all the things that can lead to those situations,” Casey said. “It’s a very complex and serious and heartbreaking problem. This just got to a point of no return, and it just spiraled out of control.”

The report was released on the second day of hearings on poverty hosted by D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).

The city must respond with “a sense of urgency,” Barry said, adding that he plans to organize a coalition of business leaders and community activists to attack the underlying problems of the urban poor.

Barry, who is also chairman of the Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs, chastised Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) for failing to quickly appoint members to the Commission on Poverty, which was established in 2006 and under law was to dissolve two years later.

Fenty, who became mayor last year, didn’t nominate residents for the 21-member commission until two weeks ago, Barry said. None of the five residents or the government employee the mayor selected lives in Wards 7 or 8, which have the highest concentration of poverty in the city, Barry said.

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