Our children deserve a better chance

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Optimists have to dig deep for good news in the latest national child welfare statistics. According to the Kids Count data released this week, Mississippi and Louisiana rank at the bottom of the nation in the annual survey of child well-being.

At 49th and 50th respectively, the states can find little to brag about.

Both states rank above the national average in low-birthrate babies; infant mortality rates; teen birth rates; high school dropout rates; children in poverty; and even families with children headed by a single parent. In fact, according to the 1997 statistics (the most recent available), 30 percent of the children in both states live in poverty. And that is a frightening statistic.

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Measuring child welfare is one of those ubiquitous issues, easy to rally around, difficult to define and even more difficult to influence and change. The Kids Count statistics, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, attempt to define and measure a child’s welfare, and then to give us as a nation — or as a state — a yardstick to measure our progress.

From the yardstick, it’s obvious that Mississippi and Louisiana aren’t measuring up. Despite calls for more economic development (which some child welfare experts say is critical to providing the economic benefits necessary for families to thrive) and a myriad of programs aimed at improving the quality of life of our children, we’re still at the bottom of the list.

And, quite frankly, our children deserve an opportunity to move up on that list.

Until each of us in Mississippi and Louisiana — parents or grandparents, taxpayers, educators, business and civic leaders — take the welfare of our children to heart, that difficult-to-create positive change will continue to elude us.

We must seek creative, innovative and effective ways to improve the quality of life for each of our children — they deserve that much.