Report: Georgia moves up in caring for kids

With Georgia seeing fewer teen deaths and more children with health insurance, the state climbed one spot to rank 42nd in the country in caring for its kids, according to a study released Tuesday.

The state showed only modest changes from the prior year in the annual Kids Count Data Book report, but the authors stressed that Georgia has seen dramatic improvements over the past five to 10 years, particularly in the area of children’s health.

Georgia teens are delaying sex and using contraception at a higher rate, leading to fewer teen births, said Rebecca Rice, the Georgia coordinator of the Kids Count study. The study — which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Education Department and other indicators — marked its 25th year and is sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Local advocates for children celebrated the improving trend line and pointed to initiatives they say helped the state: Tougher driving laws helped reduce teen deaths; programs for at-risk pregnant women contributed to fewer low-birth-weight babies; and anti-drug programs in schools led fewer teens into substance abuse, they said.

The percent of children without health insurance dropped from 11 percent in 2008 to 9 percent in 2012, according to the report.

For all the improvements, the 2014 Kids Count report offered powerful reminders as to why Georgia has consistently ranked among the worst in the country in the economic well-being, education and living conditions of children.

The percent living in poverty rose to 27 percent in 2012, up from 20 percent in 2005. The percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment rose from 28 percent in 2008 to 33 percent in 2012.

“Georgia has a higher than average unemployment rate and a history of persistent and generational poverty,” Rice said. “There’s still work to do.”

Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa were at the top of the ranking. Mississippi and New Mexico stood at the bottom.