Beltrami County children continue to struggle: New data shows higher than average poverty compared to state
BEMIDJI -- Children and teenagers in the Bemidji area are ranking high in the wrong categories according to a Kids Count study done by Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota.
Community members gathered Monday morning at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation in Bemidji to explore why Beltrami County youth is maintaining higher than state averages in child poverty, teen births and high school dropouts.
Four findings were keynote during the Kids Count coffee discussion presented by Evergreen Youth and Family Services and Beltrami County Health and Human Services. Becky Schueller, Evergreen Youth and Family Services executive director, said the percent of children in poverty, teen birth rate, graduation and dropout rates and the number of children in out of home placement were alarming.
The child out-of-home placement rate per 1,000 children in Beltrami County was 40.7 children in 2012. The rate includes children who have been removed from their biological parents' homes due to abuse and neglect. Statewide, the number is nine out of 1,000 children.
"Child poverty has been an increasing upward trend since 2004," Schueller said. "Often what we have is children growing up in families that have been in poverty for multiple generations."
Overall, Schueller said there has been a 1.4 percent drop in child poverty between 2010 and 2012, but it is still almost twice the statewide average.
The 2014 Kids Count numbers are based on 2012 data.
The U.S. Census Bureau defines poverty by considering family income, family size and the number of related children under the age 18. Children's Defense Fund Minnesota reported in 2012, the poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $23,283.
"Parent economic status is very much a determinant of child economic status," Schueller said.
Statewide, Minnesota has seen a drop in teen births with a baby born to 9.1 out of every 1,000 15- to 17-year-old girls. Schueller said there has been a substantial drop in teen births but it is still more than three times the state average in Beltrami County, with 28.7 out of 1,000 teen girls having babies.
"It's concerning because teen pregnancy is the single most predictor of lifelong poverty for women," Schueller said.
Schueller said teen birth rates and low birth weights are connected. Part of the reason for low birth weights, Schueller speculated, is the level of bureaucracy attached to receiving benefits such as Women Infants and Children (WIC) vouchers.
"They've made the process a nightmare for people," Schueller said. "In reality, WIC could be a benefit to the local economy."
The WIC rate decreased by more than 700 families between 2010 and 2012. Schueller said women must physically apply for WIC at the Beltrami County Community Services Center, the application cannot be done online. Transportation can be a problem for some mothers.
Schueller said studies have shown children are negatively impacted as adults when they don't have access to basic needs and opportunities that promote positive development. One such need is stability and normalcy. Schueller said the number of children changing schools, 22.2 percent in Beltrami County, is a red flag indicating the number of homeless children in the area. Statewide 13.1 percent of students switched schools in 2012.
"We're more than two times higher than the state in terms of our dropouts. Now that's data that has actually improved," Schueller said. "Even with improvements we're still looking pretty bad, but credit to the schools in Beltrami County."
Beltrami County's dropout rate in 2010 was 13.3 percent versus 11.9 in 2012 and a graduation rate of 66.1 percent, which was 56 percent in 2010.
On the upside, Beltrami County has lower than average annual cost for infant, toddler and preschool care. The county also has fewer limited English proficient students, 0.5 percent, than the statewide average of 7.7 percent.
Schueller said the only way to continue improving the state of children in the county is to continue to invest in programs that help the children.
Schueller encourages people to donate on Thursday, Give to the Max Day, to help alleviate some of the stress put on nonprofits in the area. Donations to Evergreen can be made at www.evergreenyfs.org. A website containing local charities can be found at www.givebemidji.org.
The research put into Kids Count is conducted by the Children's Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization that puts a focus on poor, minority and disabled children. The fund began in 1973 and was introduced in Minnesota in 1985. The Kids Count project was designed to track the status of children throughout the United States.
Beltrami County vs. Minnesota
Data from the Kids Count study done by the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota shows children in Beltrami County are impacted by poverty more than children in other areas of the state:
• Children in poverty: 28 percent vs. 15.3 percent
• Teen birth rate per 1,000: 28.7 girls between the ages of 15-17 vs. 9.1 statewide
• Graduation rate: 66.1 percent vs. 77.6 percent
• Dropout rate: 11.9 percent vs. 5.1 percent
• Child abuse and neglect per 1,000: 5.4 children vs. 3.4 statewide