Florida’s children have needs to meet

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Aug 11, 2022.

OUR POSITION: A nationwide report that examines the well-being of children in each state indicates Florida has plenty of work to do.

The kids are not all right.

That’s how we would surmise statistics accumulated by the Annie E. Casey Foundation for the KIDS COUNT Data Book that was released Monday. The Daily Sun reported on the numbers in Tuesday’s edition.

The report goes into great depth comparing numbers state by state with data between 2016 and 2020 and delves into statistics on things like teen births per 1,000 and children living in single family homes. There are areas where Florida shows some improvement and some where the state’s grade might look decent. But there are too many areas for which a wealthy state like Florida, the nation’s third largest by population, falls well short of what we should expect.

Overall, Florida ranked 35th for children’s well-being. It is the same ranking the state has had for three straight years and an embarrassment that 15 other states do better.

But, let’s start with some relatively good news. That is that Florida ranks 13th overall in the nation for education. That was a bright spot. But, considering 12 other states not nearly as well positioned as Florida beat us, that is really nothing to brag about.

Florida beat the national average in other areas relating to education. The rate of fourth graders not proficient in reading was 62% in Florida compared to 64% nationally. Eighth graders who are not up to par in reading numbered 69% in Florida and 71% nationally. And, the number of students not graduating on time was 13% in Florida compared to 29% nationwide.

We should not be proud of those numbers for Florida. It says little about progress the state has made while serving as an indictment on education in the U.S.

Here are some other statistics to consider when we start thinking about the plight of Florida’s children, starting with the not-so-bad:

  • Children without health insurance: Florida 7%, U.S. 14%.
  • Children living in high poverty areas: Florida 8%, U.S. 12%, another encouraging number for Florida.
  • Teen births per 1,000 children: Florida 15%, U.S. 32%.

Now, the not-so-good:

  • The number of children living in single-family homes: Florida 39%, U.S. 34%.
  • Children ages 3 and 4 not in school: Florida 49%, U.S. 49%
  • Teen deaths per 1,000: Florida 29%, U.S. 27%.

Some categories mask the bigger problem in our state. Those areas of greatest concern include the fact that the number of Florida children with anxiety or depression has increased by 21.8% since 2016.

One in five children in Florida is living in poverty and about 33% live in a household that spends more than 30% of its income on rent or a mortgage. The problems with high rents and mortgage payments are certainly no surprise as the high cost of housing continues to plague the state whether it is a family or an individual trying to afford a place to live.

In a press release accompanying statistics from the report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation called for lawmakers to:

  • Prioritize meeting kids’ basic needs. Youth who grow up in poverty are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than their peers.
  • Make sure more children have access to mental health care. That includes increasing the number of social workers and psychologists in schools.

No one should be pleased with Florida’s performance in this report. While there are a few areas people so inclined can point to and say “we’re not so bad,” no one should be comfortable with the numbers.

We should aspire to be a national leader in the health and well-being of our children. Until our lawmakers turn their attention to children and do more than brag about giving teachers a minimal raise, our national reputation will never be what it should be.

 Image Credits: CC Dems Graphics