Report: COVID-19 pandemic could erase years of progress on kids' and families’ needs

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Fewer Michigan children, young adults and households are living in poverty and the state's rates of infant mortality, and death for teens and young adults have improved since 2010, according to 2021 Kids Count data profiles.

At the same time, the state saw an increase in child deaths and children in families investigated for abuse or neglect, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy’s 2021 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book released on Monday.

The league looks at four domains — economic security, education, health and safety, and family and community — for child well-being in 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.

Officials said some of the individual indicators and data sources vary within those categories, but this year’s state Data Book also primarily compares data from 2010 to 2019 along with most recent year data for additional indicators. 

Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO, Michigan League for Public Policy. The state saw an increase in child deaths and children in families investigated for abuse or neglect, according to the organization's 2021 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book released on Monday.

The state report on child well-being shows nearly a decade of progress on kids' and families’ needs could be erased by the COVID-19 pandemic unless policymakers act boldly to sustain the beginnings of a recovery from the coronavirus crisis, officials said.

While the report includes the most recent information available for the state, it does not fully capture the impact of the past year, said Kelsey Perdue, Michigan Kids Count director.

Perdue said Michigan has done well to better support kids and parents over the last decade but the improvements in children’s health and economic security are still being threatened by COVID-19.

"The pandemic stands to make Michigan’s existing struggles in education outcomes even worse," Perdue said. "We have seen the progress we can make with a concerted effort, sound policy decisions and related investments, and policymakers need to follow that same formula to offset COVID’s impact, especially with the increased state and federal funding available right now."

Michigan worsened in "less than adequate" prenatal care from 2010 to 2019 and the number of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school stayed the same from 2010-19, according to the data.

The number of students graduating high school on time from 2010 to 2020.

The state improved in the number of its eighth graders proficient in math between 2015 and 2018, officials said. The state worsened in the number of third graders proficient in English language arts from 2015 to 2019. These indicators have different year ranges due to testing changes and methodology, officials said.

Detroit improved its rates of infant mortality, child deaths and teen deaths, but saw an increase in the number of mothers who had less than adequate prenatal care. Flint saw a drop in its rate of children and young adults in poverty.

State Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, said Michigan children and families should be at the forefront of every policy decision, and all children should be given the same opportunities to thrive.

"No child’s well-being should be based on their race, ethnicity, family income or ZIP code," Chang said. "The Kids Count data help ensure lawmakers know how kids are doing in our districts and what policies can help improve the lives of our young people. As a state senator and as a mom, securing the well-being of Michigan’s kids is the most important part of my work."

The Michigan Data Book’s policy recommendations include: 

• Adopting a weighted school funding formula to fund schools based on community and student needs.

•Improving job opportunities, working conditions and tax implications by restoring Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal credit, expanding the Homestead Property Tax Credit and implementing a graduated income tax to help Michigan workers keep more of their wages.

•Raising Michigan’s income eligibility threshold for state child care subsidies to a minimum of 185%, with incremental increases to 250% of poverty, and increasing payments to child care providers to reflect the actual cost of care, increasing quality, availability and access for families.

•Eliminating low eligibility thresholds, child compliance and other barriers that prevent families from accessing critical safety net programs.     

•Ensuring adequate support for programs that assist foster youth exiting the system with education, housing and work.

Twitter: @jchambers_DN