Jan 20, 2017

For the kids

A report released last week details just how important the role of family is across Vermont. But there are some trends that accentuate the time in which we live.

“How Are Vermont’s Children and Families?” is designed to measure indicators and outcomes for the early care, health and education system. The report, in its fourth incarnation, was prepared by Building Bright Futures, a nonprofit charitable organization with a statewide network of 12 regional councils charged with improving the well-being of young children and families by improving the system that serves them.

Based on the data, we still have a ways to go.

According to the 47-page report, Vermont families continue to face a child care challenge. In fact, only 47 percent of infants and toddlers likely to need child care have access to regulated programs.

In other findings:

— The rate of Vermont newborns with opioid exposure increased significantly since 2008 with a diagnosis rate in 2012 five times higher than the national average, or 31 per 1,000 children. And the number appears to be continuing to climb.

— The number of pregnant women smoking before and during pregnancy decreased.

— In addition, the number of women who used alcohol in the three months prior to pregnancy was also decreasing.

— Vermont has seen a steady increase in the number of children under age 3 completing the list of vaccinations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, 76 percent of Vermont children 19- to 35-months-old received the full series — the highest rate ever reported in Vermont.

— The number of students enrolled in free and reduced-price school meals programs in Vermont was reported at 44.1 percent — the highest level in the last five years.

— More alarming is the number of children in protective custody. The report notes that the rate of Vermont children under age 9, and particularly the rate of those under age 3, who at any given time are in protective custody has increased significantly in recent years. If children are found to be unsafe in their homes, they may be placed in protective custody (removed from their homes) with another family member, a foster family or another protective-care arrangement.

— In Vermont, 70 percent of children under age 6 and 78 percent of children 6 to 17 years old have all available parents in the labor force.

— The percentage of Vermont families with children under the age of 5 who live in poverty showed a statistically significant decline from 19 percent in 2009 to 9.6 percent in 2015, which coincides with an increase in the median household income. Additionally, while the percentage of single parent, female head-of-household families who live in poverty is decreasing as well, it remains three times more than all families.

— However, 890 children were reported in Vermont’s publicly funded homeless shelters, up from 857 in 2015. The all-time high was 993 in 2003 and 2004.

— Vermont households paying 30 percent or more of income on a mortgage dropped from 50 percent in 2010 to 34.7 percent in 2015; and for renters 54 percent in 2010 to 38.8 percent.

— And overall, the child population of Vermont declined by 3 percent to 58,321 in 2011 (the most recent data).

All in all, the report underscores how much we, as a state, have to do to support our children, especially in the earliest ages when development is crucial. The trends suggest addiction is taking hold of more families, and that the crisis associated with opioid and prescription drug addiction continues to be a threat to the social fabric of our state. Prevention, treatment and enforcement together are the only way we fight back, and Gov. Phil Scott is following on the path put down by former Gov. Peter Shumlin to stem the flow of the crisis.

We need to protect our young people. We must work together as parents, neighbors, educators, coaches and advocates for youth to make Vermont a safer place to raise families. Without more young people coming here to start their lives, we will continue to face economic disparity and budget shortfalls. And, as the saying goes, the children are our future. We need to do what we can to give them all of the tools they need to succeed, and grow up safe and strong.

We have our work cut out for us.

Click here to read this article on the Times Argus website. 

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