2013 Kids Count Factbook: RI 10th in Children’s Health Coverage

Monday, April 08, 2013


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Rhode Island Kids Count released its 2013 Factbook at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick today.

The 2013 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook released today shows that while improvements have been made in health and safety indicators, poverty and unemployment continue to be major risk factors for the state's youth.  

The 19th annual report presented today at a breakfast at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick to federal, state and community leaders contains information on 68 indicators of child well-being and shows improvements as well as declines in meeting the comprehensive needs of children from birth through adolescence.

“Our state’s economic future depends on healthy children and strong families,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island Kids Count. “We need to ensure that Rhode Island’s public policy investments in child care, early education, health care, K-12 and adult education are maintained for our children’s progress today and in the future.”

Health and Safety Indicators Showing Improvement

According to the Factbook released today, Rhode Island ranks 10th nationally for children's health insurance coverage, with 94.1% of children in the state being covered.  Rhode Island ranked 13th best in the U.S. for children ages 19-35 months being “fully immunized,” up from 23rd the previous year.

Also highlighted in the report was improved timely prenatal care for Rhode Island mothers, with the state ranking best in the nation for delivering timely prenatal care to pregnant women in 2010, which was the most recent year for which national comparison data are available.  

In addition, Rhode Island has seen a reduction in childhood obesity.  The report showed that the prevalence of obesity among children entering kindergarten is the lowest in ten years (15.5% in the 2011-2012 school year, compared to 20.3% in the 2004-2005 school year).  "We are pleased to see this trend, but we still have a long way to go," said Bryant, noting that "increased awareness" of the health dangers of obesity in the media and communities has been a big factor in the decline.  

Bryant also pointed to gains in dental access, with the number of dentists accepting qualifying children with Medical Assistance coverage increased from 27 participating providers before RIte Smiles to 406 in September 2012. As of December 31, 2012, there were 61,258 children enrolled in RIte Smiles and 53% of all children with Medical Assistance received a dental service the previous State Fiscal Year, up from 43% of children seven years ago.

Poverty and Unemployment Major Risk Factors

The Kids Count Factbook released today shows that between 2007 and 2012, the number of Rhode Islanders receiving emergency food assistance doubled. Children participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increased by 84% between 2005 and 2012, and SNAP participation increased by 57% in the four core cities and by 153% in the remainder of the state during this time period.

During the 2012-2013 school year, 16 of the 24 school districts in Rhode Island with severe need schools (schools in which 40% or more of students qualify for free or reduced price schools meals) did not offer universal school breakfast. After implementing breakfast in the classroom in several districts around the state, including all 25 elementary schools in Providence, Rhode Island achieved a 23% increase in breakfast participation by low income students from the 2010-2011 to the 2011-2012 school year.

“The lingering recession and high unemployment in Rhode Island continue to have a negative impact on children and families,” noted Bryant. “Income support programs are critical for helping low- and moderate-income working families in Rhode Island make ends meet during difficult economic times, and providing children with the nutrition they need to pay attention and excel in school.”

Nationally, Rhode Island ranked 27th among states for the number of children in poverty, and the worst (6th) among New England states in 2011 (a one-year average). Between 2007 and 2011, 17.9% of children (39,900) in Rhode Island lived below the federal poverty threshold, which is $18,498 for a family of three.  

Education Opportunities, Improvements, and Challenges

Bryant pointed to an increase in early morning learning opportunities, with students participating in 169 early care and education programs through Bright Stars as a major improvement in the state, as well as more school districts providing full day kindergarten.  

During the 2012-2013 school year, 21 of Rhode Island’s 35 school districts offered universal access to full-day kindergarten programs.  Subject to appropriation, Rhode Island’s Full-Day Kindergarten Accessibility Act of 2012 will provide one-time, start-up funding to school districts transitioning from part-day kindergarten to providing universal access to full-day kindergarten beginning with the 2013-2014 school year. 

Also shown were improvements in literacy in the state.  In October 2012, 77% of Rhode Island eighth graders scored at or above proficiency in reading on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test, an increase from 55% in 2005, the first year the NECAP was given.

However challenges in educational outcomes continue to be a factor.  During the 2011- 2012 school year, 11% of Rhode Island children in grades K-3 were chronically absent (absent 18 days or more). In the four core cities, 19% of children in grades K-3 were chronically absent. The report noted that chronic absenteeism affects all students in a class because teachers may backtrack or slow the learning pace to review lessons for students who have missed school.

The chronic absence rate among middle and high school students is twice as high in the four core cities as in the remainder of the state. During the 2011-2012 school year, 25% of middle school students and 40% of high school students in the four core cities were absent 18 or more days, compared to 10% of middle school students and 19% of high school students absent 18 or more days in the remainder of the state.

“The information presented in the 2013 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook can help our state leaders and policymakers make well-informed decisions about the programs and policies that are most important to ensuring the success of our children and our state,” Bryant stated.


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