Study Shows Mixed Picture for Texas Kids

A study by a statewide children's advocacy group has bad news and good news about Texas children. The study shows that while the overall health of Texas infants is improving, more children are living in poverty and dying in infancy. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The study was done by KIDS COUNT at the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, and it's an annual spot check of the well-being of children in every county in the state. KIDS COUNT Director Frances Deviney says even with the bad news, Texas is doing better in some important areas.

"Several of the good things actually focus around infant and maternal health, and what we're seeing, both in Harris County and in Texas, is that more women are receiving prenatal care, and that fewer babies are being born to teens."ξ

At the same time, Deviney says Texas has a lot of work to do in other areas.ξ

"The number of infants that die before their first birthday has increased, both in Harris County and in Texas. Clearly that is a horrific rate to be talking about, and we're not a third world country. And we shouldn't even really be discussing this issue."

The study also shows unemployment has increased, child poverty is up for the fifth straight year, and Texas has the highest rates of uninsured children in the nation. Deviney most of these problems are the result of poverty, because nearly one in four Texas children lives below the poverty line, but she says it would be wrong to blame the problems on the large number of low income immigrants who come to Texas.

"Babies born to Hispanic mothers tend to have better birth outcomes. They tend to be a higher birthweight, which really is linked to developmental problems later in life. And they tend to be less likely to die before their first birthday, so that can't account for all the changes that we're seeing."ξ

Deviney says KIDS COUNT believes the best and most effective way to improve the lives of poor children is to improve the economic lives of their working parents, and, despite the myth of welfare mothers, she says most people at the bottom of the economic ladder have jobs.

"What's interesting is that the majority of children who live in poverty in our state have parents who work. And so we really support changes in our work support system, because we believe that in order to have healthy children you gotta have healthy families, and a big part of family health is economic security."

Deviney says this is why KIDS COUNT believes working families should be allowed to remain eligible for public assistance until they can earn enough to meet their own needs. She says higher education should be more accessible and more affordable, and the state should expand job training and career development opportunities for working adults.

KIDS COUNT is a national effort to track the status of children state by state, and it's funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. You can read the 2007 report on Texas on our website KUHF dot org. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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