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Teen death, dropout, birthrates falling

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2007

Child well-being has improved in six of 10 key areas, including death and dropout rates and teen birthrates, says the 2007 Kids Count Data Book.

But the nation still has high rates of underweight babies, child poverty and single-parent homes, said the 18th annual publication, released yesterday by Annie E. Casey Foundation.

There's "some good news and bad news" in national trends during the past four or five years, said Laura Beavers, a Casey Foundation research associate who oversaw production of the 192-page book.

The strongest improvements were seen in the number of teen dropouts, which fell from 11 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2005, and the teen birthrate, which fell from 48 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 in 2000 to 41 births per 1,000 teens in 2004.

Small or modest decreases also were seen in infant mortality rates, child and teen death rates, and the percent of "idle" teens, aged 16 to 19, who weren't in school or the workplace.

However, the portion of babies born weighing less than 5.5 pounds crept up by half a percentage point, or a 7 percent increase, to 8.1 percent of all births in 2004, and the percent of children living with single parents rose one percentage point, to 32 percent in 2005.

The numbers of both children whose parents didn't have full-time jobs and those who lived in poverty also rose two percentage points, to 34 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

This year's Kids Count book focused on the plight of children in foster care.

The number of abused, neglected or abandoned children in foster care in 2005 was 513,000, an almost 10 percent drop from 567,000 in 1999. However, "this is still 28 percent higher than the more than 400,000 children in foster care on a single day in 1990," Douglas W. Nelson, president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said in an essay in the book.

A fundamental purpose of child welfare is "getting kids out of harm's way," but "safety, in and of itself, is not enough," Mr. Nelson told a Capitol Hill briefing yesterday. "In the long run, kids who are left without a strong and lasting family are neither truly secure nor will they have an equal shot at life's opportunities and blessings."

Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat, told the briefing that he is working to amend federal child-welfare funding rules so grandparents and other relatives can be supported financially when they take guardianship of related children who cannot be cared for by their parents.

Mr. Nelson also called for more detailed collection of foster care data so that the well-being of children in care and child welfare practices can be assessed more closely.

The House Ways and Means subcommittee on income security and family support recently held four hearings on vulnerable youth and child welfare. Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat and subcommittee chairman, has decried the homelessness and joblessness that befall many former foster youth and warned that the child welfare system is failing to provide adequate health care to the children in its custody.