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Kids Count Report Indicates Progress in Child Well-being Could be Hampered By Pandemic

Lisa Hamilton and Dr. Aditi Srivastav-Bussells
Annie E. Casey President & CEO Lisa Hamilton and Dr. Aditi Srivastav-Bussells (Dir. of Research at Childrens Trust of South Carolina) talk with SC Public Radio about the latest Kids Count Data Book.

Nearly a decade after the Great Recession, researchers were starting to see "promising trends" when it came to the well-being of kids in the U.S. But data from the being of the pandemic is showing that progress could be in jeopardy.

In 2019 the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported 20 percent of children in South Carolina were living in poverty. Each year the nonprofit releases its Kids Count Data Book, a 50-state report that tracks the well-being of children in the US.

That 20 percent was slightly above the national average of 17 percent.

Nationally, the report showed what Lisa Hamilton, President and CEO the Annie E. Casey Foundation, called encouraging trends. “More parents were economically secure and they were able to meet their housing costs and more teens were graduating from high school,” she said.

The Foundation follows 16 indicators to get a snapshot of the well-being of children. That report indicated improvements in 11 of those 16. Hamilton said nearly ten years after the Great Recession the well-being of children in the country was getting better, but warned COVID-19 could jeopardize that progress.

“We looked at data from the US Census Bureau that was gathered monthly throughout the pandemic and it showed that many families are struggling with hunger, mental health concerns and a lack of health insurance.”

The Foundation’s 2019 report indicated more families were economically secure and able to meet their housing costs, but this year’s report shows “many parents are anxious about being able to make their rent or mortgage payment,” Hamilton said. She also said current data shows many kids haven’t had access to the internet or the technology they needed during this time.

But in South Carolina, where 20 percent of children lagged their national counterparts, the impacts of the pandemic could be extra damaging. Dr. Aditi Srivastav-Bussells, Director of Research at Children’s Trust of South Carolina said there is a lot of work to do.

“About one fifth of our population of children lives in poverty. You can only imagine how poverty compounds a lot of those social, political and environmental factors that can be detrimental to a child’s well-being.”

Srivastav-Bussells said pre-pandemic almost over 70 percent of fourth graders were not meeting reading standards and almost 80 percent were not meeting math standards, in eighth grade.

“That is a very big statistic and can have some long-term impacts on the future of our state, the productivity of our state, the economic well-being, you name it.”

Two other areas that could be worsened by the impacts of the pandemic are in healthcare and poverty. Srivastav-Bussells said the state also struggles in terms of health insurance, with about 69,000 children living without coverage, and also when it comes to poverty.

“We have about 20 percent [of children] living in poverty, but even within poverty, there are different levels.” She said 12 percent of that 20 are living in what is known as concentrated poverty. “That means that everyone around them in their census tract is also experiencing extreme poverty.”

She said when data from 2020 is studied it will either show healthy progress or unfortunately a move two steps back because of all the challenges thrown our way due to the pandemic.

Srivastav-Bussells and Hamilton urge investing in programs and supports to children and families to remedy both pre-pandemic poverty and poverty caused by the pandemic.

Using data from the 2020 Household Pulse survey, a special survey created by the U.S. Census bureau to capture pandemic-related challenges, Srivastav-Bussells said Children’s Trust of South Carolina and her team were able to understand the stories behind the different challenges families and children in South Carolina were dealing with.

“Not surprisingly, some of the things we saw were parents were experiencing worse mental health and worse stressers that they have not been able to deal with or have mitigated,” Srivastav-Bussells said.

She said care-giving arrangements, optimal for parents to be able to go to work, and food insecurities have been exacerbated by COVID.

Also supporting their economic call-to-action is data on how South Carolinians spent their stimulus payments.

How SC spent Stimulus.mp3
How SC Spent its stimulus payments can give insight into the need for more economic supports to lift children and families out of poverty.
Dr. Aditi Srivastav-Bussells.png

“The top three uses of the stimulus payments here have been basic needs; like paying for housing, paying for food and paying for other essential bills.”

She said in order to lift children and families out of the poverty they are experiences, investments in more economic supports are needed.

South Carolina currently ranks 41 out of 50 in child well-being, which is based on four main indicators: economic and educational well-being; health-related indicators; and family and community contacts.