- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The overall well-being of South Carolina’s children continues to trend upward, even as poverty in the state worsens, according to a national report released Tuesday.

The Kids Count survey , issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Children’s Trust of South Carolina, its local partner organization, ranks the state 41st overall in a child’s chances of succeeding. That’s up from 42nd last year and the highest ranking South Carolina has achieved in the report’s existence.

Published annually, the Kids Count survey provides vital data for a nationwide network of projects. Here, that’s administered by the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, a statewide organization focused on the prevention of child abuse, neglect and injury and advocates for the overall well-being of children.

Using a combination of state, local, federal and private money, the organization trains people to work directly with families.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Children’s Trust CEO Sue Williams said the Kids Count report shows South Carolina is moving forward, but still has a long way to go.



Among its programs, the Children’s Trust helps educate first-time mothers on safety and raising their babies. Another focuses on good practices for parents of older children. The group works with lawmakers on more general safety issues, too, such as helmets for children on motorcycles.

“If we’re going to get out of the bottom, we need to do more of it, and we need to do it faster,” Williams said.

Launched in 1990, the Kids Count report has evolved to focus on four key indicators: economics, education, health, and family and community.

To Williams, who has led Children’s Trust since its creation in 2007 and has worked on children’s issues for decades, the key to improve in those four areas is to work toward poverty reduction. Alleviating poverty helps children be healthier and more successful in school and the workplace.

“If we can decrease poverty, we can significantly improve so many of these other indicators,” she said.

According to the survey, more than a quarter of South Carolina children live in poverty, or about 289,000 children. According to the report, the percentage of children living in poverty in the state has risen to 27 percent, from 22 percent in 2008. The parents of one in three South Carolina children lack a secure job, the report states. More than 40 percent of children live in single-parent homes.

In the area of education, the survey shows that three-quarters of South Carolina eighth-graders aren’t proficient in math. Two-thirds of fourth-graders aren’t proficient in reading, and a quarter of students aren’t graduating high school on time. More than half - 56 percent - of young children aren’t in school, up from 50 percent the last time data were collected.

Children’s health is the only of the four areas where South Carolina shows across-the-board improvement, ranking 37th nationwide and mirroring a national trend toward improvement. Low birthweight babies dropped from 9.9 percent to 9.4 percent of all births, and the number of children without health insurance was 6 percent, compared with 13 percent in 2008.

As a statewide organization, Children’s Trust can help connect smaller groups in different areas of South Carolina that might be working toward the same goals so that they can combine resources and effect change.

“We see them as partners,” Williams said. “If they’re getting into issues, whether it’s cash flow or recruitment or retention, we at the state level can connect them to others who are like them … and say, ‘Hey, maybe y’all can work with each other.’”

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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