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Report: 'Distressed' Communities Jeopardize Children's Well-Being

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Washington

Nearly four million American children are growing up in communities that jeopardize their safety and decrease their chances of success in school, family life, and the workplace, a report set for release this week shows.

"The quality, coordination, and accessibility of education, health care, law enforcement, family services, child welfare, housing, employment, recreation, and crisis services have routinely been allowed to deteriorate in the very neighborhoods in which these services are most crucial to the welfare of children and families,'' charges the 1994 "Kids Count Data Book'' published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report, which rates states on 10 indicators of child well-being, defined neighborhoods as "severely distressed'' if they had high levels of four or more risk factors: poverty, female-headed families, high school dropouts, unemployment, and welfare dependency.

Children living in distressed communities can be found in every state except Idaho, the report says, but nearly half are concentrated in six states: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Texas. The rate was also comparatively high in rural Southern states.

African-American and Latino children make up 80 percent of the children living in distressed neighborhoods--a rate 12 times higher than their nonminority peers, the report says.

Shift of Authority Urged

Douglas W. Nelson, the executive director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said economic policies, failing education and human-services systems, and the weakening of social institutions and small businesses have left troubled communities "without the vibrant infrastructure necessary to shield children and families'' from an array of social ills.

Reversing that pattern, he said, will require not only a major investment to reform human-service systems but also a transfer of authority to allow neighborhoods to craft their own solutions.

The annual Kids Count report documents slight nationwide improvement in reducing infant mortality, the child-death rate, the number of teenagers not in school or in the labor force, and the number of children in poverty.

But it shows increases in the percent of low-birthweight babies, the rate of juvenile violent-crime arrests, the number of births to single teenagers, the rate of teenage violent deaths, and the numbers of children in single-parent homes and not graduating from high school on time.

Most of the data in the report were compiled by the Population Reference Bureau using Census Bureau data. Kids Count projects in 48 states also produce annual state and local profiles.

Copies of the "Kids Count Data Book'' are available for free from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Suite 420N, 111 Market Place, Baltimore, Md. 21202.

Children's Express, a youth program that operates news bureaus, has compiled a companion report featuring interviews with children living under distressed conditions. Copies of "Kids' Voices Count: Illuminating the Statistics'' are available for $5 each from Children's Express, 1440 New York Ave., N.W., Suite 510, Washington, D.C. 20005.

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