Kids Count report takes a look back to move forward


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ST. THOMAS - The latest Kids Count report takes a look at trends affecting the territory's children during a 20 year period, finding some disturbing trends but also showing some positive signs for the future of Virgin Islands youth.

The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands released the findings of the 2013 Kids Count Data Book to the Governor's Children and Families Council, which met Thursday at Government House on St. Thomas.

"This year's book is really a look at the census," CFVI President Dee Baecher-Brown said. "It's a little different because it's looking at 20 years."

The report, titled "Pausing for Review," charts the growth and challenges facing V.I. children using census data from 1990, 2000 and 2010.

The 2010 census data was not released until 2012, and the Kids Count report is always a year behind, because that is when the data becomes available.

"This report is particularly valuable for a long view as to where we've been," said Kim Holdsworth, co-director for Kids Count in the territory.

For example, the size of families is shrinking, and fewer families are living in the Virgin Islands, but those that are here have higher incomes than they did 20 years ago.

The percentage of children within the total population has dropped by 24 percent in the last 20 years, according to the report.

Baecher-Brown said if funding levels and government priorities remain at current levels, more resources will be allocated per child. However, the fear is that fewer children will mean priorities will shift to other areas, leaving the territory's children without the proper resources to thrive.

Kids and poverty

The median income of families in the territory rose by about $9,000 a year compared with 1995, to about $37,254. The number of children living in poverty - while still high at 31 percent in 2010 - is less than the 42 percent in 2000 and 37 percent in 1990.

The number of single-mother families living in poverty improved slightly during the 20-year period, dropping from 46 percent in 1990 to 38 percent in 2010, according to the report.

Kids and health

In 20 years, the number of live births fell by 27 percent, although the number of women rose.

"Fewer lifetime births per woman generally predict better lifetime health for mothers and greater investments in their children's health and safety," the report's executive summary states.

Infant mortality rates also showed improvement during the last 20 years.

In 1990, 14 out of every 1,000 babies died. By 2010, that had dropped to six out of 1,000.

About 27 percent of the territory's children do not have health insurance, which is much higher than the national average of 8 percent.

Kids and crime

The statistics involving crime and youth in the territory show "distressingly high" rates of juveniles committing violent crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery and assault, according to the Kids Count report.

Between 1997 and 2011, arrests of children 10-18 years old for violent crimes rose by 98 percent - from 310 in every 100,000 to 614 in every 100,000.

Additionally, youth living in the Virgin Islands are two to three times more likely to die than youth in the rest of the country, according to the Kids Count report. Teen deaths in the territory averaged nine a year, twice the national average.

Kids and education

The territory also is far behind the nation when it comes to educating children, according to the report.

"Too few kids access education at ages when it makes the most difference," the report states.

The two most vital times for children to engage in school is at the beginning, preschool age, and at the end, high school, the report said. Children that attend preschool learn the skills necessary to do well in their school career and high school prepares children for a diploma that paves the way for higher education, military service or the job market.

In 2010, 27 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds were not enrolled in preschool, and 34 percent of children entering kindergarten lacked the cognitive skills expected of that age level, including counting skills, pattern recognition and logic ability.

Half of Virgin Islands kindergartners lacked word and comprehension skills expected of that age group.

In 2010, 7 percent - 320 - teens ages 15 to 17 were not attending school, almost double the national average of 4 percent.

More of those who are in school are meeting grade level expectations compared with a decade ago, but the territory still needs significant improvement.

For example, while 62 percent of fifth-graders are performing at grade level - a huge improvement from the 32 percent in the 2004-2005 school year - only half of 11th-graders are proficient in math, and only 37 percent are proficient in reading.

Facilitating change

The Community Foundation hopes the data included in the Kids Count report will inspire change for the territory's children.

"Part of our mission is to provide the data so we can facilitate positive policy changes for children," said Judith Richardson, co-director for Kids Count in the territory.

The Kids Count report presented Tuesday is the 14th of its kind compiled in the territory. It is part of a national initiative sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Kids Count report is available on the Community Foundation's website at www.cfvi.net and has its own Facebook page at www.facebook.com/KidsCountVI.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.78 were born in the U.S. Virgin Islands

7 were born outside the United States

81 are black

9 are white

1 is Asian

20 are Hispanic

5 are some other race

7 are younger than 5

52 live on St. Croix

45 live on St. Thomas

3 live on St. John

32 live in families with married parents

40 live in single-mother families

35 are enrolled in the paternity and child support services system

20 live in grandparent-headed households

27 live with at least one unemployed parent

58 live in families with annual incomes of $45,000 or less

31 live below the poverty line

56 live in families receiving SNAP benefits

6 live in families receiving TANF benefits

27 lack any health care coverage

5 are developmentally delayed or disabled

14 are teenage girls

3 teenage girls have given birth

4 are kindergartners

2 of these kindergartners lack age-expected comprehension skills

4 are in third grade

2 of those third-graders are able to read proficiently

4 are 11th-graders

1 of those 11th-graders is able to read proficiently

18 are ages 15-17

1 of those age 15-17 has dropped out of school

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