Study: Dallas County second worst for child well-being

Published 9:10pm Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dallas County is the second worst in the state for child well-being, according to a study released Wednesday by child advocacy organization VOICES for Alabama’s Children.

The study aggregated data from a myriad of sources, including the U.S. Census, Alabama Department of Education, Department of Human Resources and Department of Health and Human Services. It used 2000 as the base year and 2010 or 2011 as the current year, depending on available data. The study took the raw data and compared Alabama’s 67 counties. Dallas County finished 66, only better than Greene County. Shelby County ranked first overall for child well-being.

VOICES executive director Linda Tilly said many of the study’s indicators are interrelated, with the most important being education. Dallas County’s overall graduation rate is 71.1 percent, slightly lower than the state’s 71.8 percent average.

But Tilly said education starts long before formal schooling.

“Education is key, but it doesn’t start at age three or four with pre-k,” she said. “Children are learning from birth and the environment in their lives makes a huge difference. When children are born into families in poverty, they often times don’t have the same kinds of stimulation.”

Dallas County’s best ranking was sixth in the state in children with indication of abuse or neglect, but the county ranked last in the state in two categories — births to unmarried teens and children in poverty.

The county’s birth to unmarried teens rate actually decreased from 2000 to 2010, but still remained seven percent above the state’s average.

“I start to wonder, ‘how many of those young women were able to go back to school and finish their degree,’” Tilly said. “You also have to wonder, ‘what about those mothers ten years ago that didn’t finish high school after having a child?’ They are probably making minimum wage at best and their children are living in poverty.”

The children in poverty rate was more than double the state average. Though the overall number of children in the county decreased from 2000 to 2011, the number of children in poverty increased by more than 2,000.

The number of children in single-parent families ranked 65 out of 67 in the study at 58.8 percent. The raw number decreased from 2000 to 2010, but Tilly said an overall decline in population might be the reason behind the increase.

“I really think there is a thread that runs though a lot of this and it is poverty, but also education,” she said. “The results of poverty, not the poverty itself often causes the most problems. In breaking the cycle of poverty, I think we need to start with education.”

Alabama ranked 44 out of 50 for child well-being. It was the state’s best rank since VOICES began the studies in 1990.


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