Where does Polk rank for child welfare in the Florida Policy Institute report

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County makes gains on most measures

Polk County ranks 55th out of 67 counties in Florida for the general well-being of its children, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the Florida Policy Institute.

The Florida Child Well-Being Index is based on assessments of 16 indicators in four categories: economic well-being, health, education, and family and community. Rankings were compiled using data from the annual Kids Count Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Polk County has ranked in the lowest quarter of counties every year since the REIT began publishing its annual survey in 2017.

The report marked a continued decline for Polk County after dropping from 55th in 2017 to 50th in 2018. The county ranked 54th in 2019 and 53rd last year.

Polk County Ranking

  • Health: 31
  • Economic well-being: 46th
  • Education: 56th
  • Family and community: 57th

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Florida ranked 35th out of 50 states in the new report, similar to the previous year.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has been producing its national Kids Count report since the 1990s.

The FPI survey uses the same data as the national report when possible, but also pulls information from state agencies such as the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Department of Health, and the Florida Department of Children and Families.

The Florida Policy Institute, an Orlando-based nonprofit think tank, describes itself as “committed to advancing state policies and budgets that improve economic mobility and the quality of life for all Floridians.”

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St. Johns, Lafayette and Santa Rosa counties, three of the smallest in the state, ranked top overall for child welfare. Hamilton, Putnam and DeSoto were the three lowest-ranked counties.

“As the pandemic approached, indicators for Florida Kids County 2019 were improving,” Norin Dollard, senior policy analyst for the REIT and director of the investigation, said Tuesday morning in a conference call with journalists. “We were building a foundation. That didn’t mean we didn’t have work to do, but we had made progress on just about every metric.

She added: “COVID-19 – as it is not news to you – has really brought additional hardship to families and children.”

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Polk County showed improvement in 10 of 16 measures used in the survey

Polk County ranked in the top half of counties in just one category – 31st for health. Polk ranked 46th for Economic Well-Being, 56th for Education and 57th for Family and Community.

Polk showed improvement in 10 of the 16 measures used in the survey, with significant improvements for children in poverty, high school graduates on time, and youth contacts with the juvenile justice system.

The county remained roughly unchanged in four categories, including out-of-school 3 and 4-year-olds and low birth weight babies. The county is doing worse on two measures – economic well-being and eighth-graders not proficient in math.

The four indicators of economic well-being are poor children, unemployment, high housing costs, and out-of-school and jobless adolescents.

Among economic indicators, the survey found that 21.1% of children lived in poverty in 2019, an improvement from 27.3% in the 2014 baseline.

Polk’s unemployment rate was 9.0% in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic caused disruption. This was worse than the 6.4% rate in 2015.

The share of Polk County residents spending more than 30% of their income on housing increased to 29.2% in 2015-2019. It was 33.7% in 2010-2014.

The share of adolescents who are out of school or not working increased from 9.7% in 2010-2014 to 10.1% in 2015-2019. The survey classified this category as unchanged.

The rankings took into account four metrics to assess education: 3- and 4-year-olds out of school, fourth-graders not proficient in language arts, eighth-graders not fluent in math, and high school students. not having graduated on time.

The measure of out-of-school preschool children remained virtually unchanged at 58%. The share of fourth graders judged not to be proficient in language arts improved slightly but remained high at 79%.

Among eighth grade students in Polk County, 88% were not proficient in math, slightly lower than in the 2014-2015 rankings.

The county may have made its most notable gains in another category, with high school students not graduating on time. This figure rose from 30.6% in 2014-2015 to 13.5% in 2019-2020.

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Dollard said Florida has generally seen progress in this category in recent years. Dollard said the statewide rate of 22% in 2014-2015 fell to 10% in the most recent period.

Among health and well-being indicators, the survey found that 9% of babies born in 2019 had low birth rates. The report estimated this to be unchanged from the 8.6% born in 2014.

The survey found that 35.7% of students in grades one, three and six were overweight and obese in 2019-2020. This marked an increase from 34.7% in 2014-2015, although the survey assessed the level as unchanged.

Polk County improved the rate of uninsured children from 9.3% in 2014 to 7.1% in 2019.

Florida has made steady progress in reducing the number of children without health insurance, reflecting a national trend. But it stalled. The figure fell to 6.6% in 2016, but rose to 7.6% in 2019, according to the report.

Polk County saw an improvement in the percentage of high school teens who had used alcohol or drugs in the previous 30 days. This figure was 30.6% in 2020, compared to 31.8% in 2016.

The survey found improvement for Polk County in all four measures grouped under the heading of family and community. The percentage of children living in single-parent families increased from 37.8% in 2010-2014 to 36.5% in 2015-2019.

The report also showed fewer children living in areas of high poverty – 14.2% in 2015-2019, compared to 20.3% in 2010-2014. The survey found that 6.3 children per 1,000 in Polk County had experienced substantive abuse, down from 7 in 2014-2015.

The county has made spectacular progress in the rate of contact of young people with the juvenile justice system. The survey reported 17 per 1,000 in 2019-2020, compared to 39.7 per 1,000 in 2014-2015.

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Dollard said data as recent as four weeks revealed that nearly a quarter of Florida households with children had reported income losses in the previous month. Almost a fifth said they had little or no confidence in their ability to make their next rent or mortgage payment, and 13% said their children did not have enough to eat.

Dollard said the pandemic has worsened the availability of affordable child care for families in Florida.

“Our child care system has been hit hard during the pandemic,” she said. “So we need to do things like invest in affordable, quality early learning, make sure there is access to and available child care, as well as the quality of those child care services. “

Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or 863-802-7518. Follow on Twitter @ garywhite13.


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