Children's advocacy organization releases annual report

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A children's advocacy organization released an annual report Monday that charts improvements and declines in the wellbeing of Rhode Island's kids.

Rhode Island Kids Count released its 25th annual Factbook at an event in Warwick. Politicians, lawmakers and community leaders attended. Elizabeth Burke Bryant, the nonprofit's executive director, said the report showed many positive trends, including a decline in child poverty and an increase in the percentage of children with health insurance.

Poverty is the most important indicator they track because it affects everything else in children's lives, from health and safety to their education. Nearly 17% of children statewide are living in poverty, or about 39,000 children, which is down from nearly 20% in 2014, Bryant said. Bryant said they want that number to decline even further and the state needs to address disparities by race and ethnicity.

She said 98% of Rhode Island children have health insurance coverage.

There are also some troubling trends, she said, such as more school suspensions and high rates of e-cigarette use among youth. The number of out-of-school suspensions increased by 19%, to nearly 12,000, during the 2017 to 2018 school year.

About 20% of high school students reported that they currently use e-cigarettes.

"It's a true portrait of Rhode Island children, where children are doing well and where there's much more work to do," Bryant said.

Bryant said she's also trying to bring attention to concerning new statistics about childhood obesity. The report found that 15% of Rhode Island children ages 2 to 17 are overweight and that 20% are obese. Efforts to improve access to good nutrition and increase physical activity in schools will be crucial, she said.

Among other findings, there was a jump in the number of reports of abuse and neglect, from nearly 16,000 in 2017 to nearly 22,000 in 2018.

By examining the best available data statewide and in the 39 municipalities, the nonprofit said it aims to provide information that can result in more effective policy and community action for children.

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