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Children & Families

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So far, the '90s have been a difficult decade for many of America's families. And 1994 was particularly rough for children.

Of six problems affecting Americans younger than 18, four of them-- child abuse, teenage suicide, drug abuse, and the high school dropout rate--worsened during 1994, the most recent year for which data were available, according to the Index of Social Health, an annual assessment of where the nation stands on 16 social indicators.

The data were compared against each preceding year since the index started in 1986.

The Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy at the Fordham Graduate Center in Tarrytown, N.Y., prepares the index.

Infant mortality and child poverty did improve, although the percentage of children in poverty decreased just slightly.

Other areas influencing family well-being offered a mixed picture. Food stamp participation and the gap between rich and poor rose in 1994, while employment rates and average weekly incomes improved.

The researchers note that four of the five worst years of performance on these indicators as recorded by the index occurred during the 1990s.

The study also says that none of the recent presidential administrations has been able to bring about significant improvement in the nation's social health. During the Nixon and Ford years, the average index was 73.3 out of a possible 100. It has fallen during every administration since, standing at 39 under President Clinton.

To get a copy of the report, call the institute at (914) 332-6013.

A Michigan woman who was forced to decide between continuing her education or keeping custody of her young daughter has reached an agreement with the child's father, according to Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Lido Bucci, who handled the widely publicized case.

Jennifer Ireland and Steven Smith, who never married, will share physical and legal custody of 5-year-old Maranda Ireland-Smith. Ms. Ireland will leave the University of Michigan and move closer to the Detroit suburbs, where the child lives with her father. Judge Bucci, however, noted that dropping out of school was not a condition of the settlement, which was reached last month.

Mr. Smith sought custody in 1993 when Ms. Ireland enrolled at the university in Ann Arbor and put her daughter in a licensed family-day-care home. The father claimed the girl would be better off with him because his mother could care for her full time while he worked.

--LINDA JACOBSON ljacobs@epe.org

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