Report: Michigan improves in some child well-being measures

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan's child poverty and infant death rates decreased and the state had fewer teen births the last decade, according to 2020 Kids Count data profiles, which measure child well-being.

At the same time, more Michigan children are part of neglect or abuse investigations, more children are victims in those cases and more state households are considered among the working poor since 2010, according to the nonprofit Michigan League for Public Policy, which released its full report on Wednesday.

Most of Michigan's counties have seen child poverty rates decline since 2010, according to the 2020 Kids Count Data Book.

The organization examined 16 child well-being indicators across four categories — economic security, education, family and community, and health and safety — for each of Michigan’s 83 counties, with additional data profiles for five regions, the cities of Flint and Detroit, and the state as a whole.

The report used the most recently available data and compared it with data from 2010. Depending on the category, the most recent data is from 2017, 2018 or 2019, project officials said.

Positive trends found in the report: Out of 83 counties, 79 saw a decrease in teen births, 80 saw a decrease in child poverty and 27 saw a decrease in infant deaths. The report says 57 counties saw an increase in high school graduation rates.

Read:Profiles of each county in Michigan

Project officials say some concerning trends were: 81 counties saw an increase in child abuse or neglect investigations; 64 counties saw an increase in confirmed victims and 62 counties increased in the proportion of working poor households.

While researchers compiled the data in the profiles before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it shows where kids’ needs were before the resulting health and economic crisis and where the biggest needs will be afterward, said Kelsey Perdue, project director for Kids Count in Michigan.

Perdue said the business closures and job losses related to COVID-19 will have a significant impact on Michigan parents and their kids, putting even greater emphasis on the need for safety net programs, food security, health care, and efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect.

“The policy and funding needs of Michigan kids will be more important than ever in the months ahead as the Legislature is charged with making billions of dollars in state budget cuts and distributing nearly $4 billion in federal COVID relief for the state,” Perdue said.

Officials said some key findings in the profiles and data relevant to the COVID-19 crisis and the future economic strain include:

•Half of all Michigan kids, 730,891, received free or reduced-price lunch in the 2018-19 school year.

•Cases of child abuse and neglect continue to be a concern in the state, with children in investigated families increasing by 71.8% and confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect increasing 33.7% since 2010.

•Statewide, 87.7% of children ages 0-17 live in homes with internet access. The 12.3% who do not account for about 266,000 kids. Children's internet access by county ranges between 65% and 96% and is lowest in rural areas.

Perdue said she is worried about the increases in the number of children in neglect and abuse investigations, especially as families remain at home because of the virus pandemic.

"It's especially concerning that families are isolated now and there is no school. There is increased stress," Perdue said. "The data shows the importance of investing in prevention."

In Detroit, child poverty rates were down 11.8% for children ages 0-17. According to the report, 76,358 or 47.3% of Detroit's children are in poverty compared with 99,843 or 53.6% in 2010.

Yet the city's rate of 3 and 4-year-olds in preschool dropped from 44.6% to 40.2%.

Poverty rates also dropped for children in Flint by 14.8% to 12,173 children or 53.7% compared to 16,989 or 63.1% in 2010. Flint, which had lead-tainted water starting in 2014, also saw the proportion of youngsters in preschool increase.