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Newark children improved in eight of 10 critical measures of child well-being over a 10-year span, but they still face more poverty, health and education issues than children statewide, according to Newark Kids Count 2014, released today.
The annual report by Advocates for Children of New Jersey found that fewer Newark children were in foster care, fewer teens had babies, more children had health insurance, more children attended preschool and more high school graduates went to college over a 10-year span.
While this is encouraging, the report also found that Newark children are much more likely to live in poverty, face health and education issues and encounter other barriers that diminish their chances of growing up safe, healthy and educated.
“This is a good time to take a longer-term look at the picture of child well-being in Newark, especially as the city’s voters gear up to elect a new mayor and choose their representatives on city council,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a statewide, non-profit child research and action organization.
“We hope this information will be used during the campaigns to inform debate and elevate the pressing issues facing Newark’s children,” Zalkind said. “These statistics can tell us where efforts have paid off and where more attention and stronger investments are needed.”
Key trends include:
Child Poverty. The percentage of children living in families earning below the federal poverty level decreased 5 percent from 2003 to 2012. While this is positive, nearly half of Newark children – 44 percent in 2012 – were living in poverty, far higher than the statewide child poverty rate of 15 percent.
Households Spending Too Much on Rent. This is one of two areas in which Newark families lost ground, with an 18 percent increase in the number of households spending more than the recommended 30 percent of income on rent. In 2012, 59 percent of households spent too much on rental costs, up from 50 percent in 2004.
Births. Births to teens declined, going from 16 percent of all births in 2001 to 12 percent in 2010, the most recent year that data are available. Newark’s teen birth rate, however, remains twice as high as the statewide average of 6 percent.
During the same time, births to unmarried women inched up from 70 percent to 73 percent of all births, more than twice the statewide average of 36 percent. This was one of two indicators where Newark lost ground.
Early Education and College Enrollment. More Newark children were enrolled in quality, public preschool and more 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college from 2003 to 2012. During this time, public preschool enrollment increased 17 percent and college enrollment rose 37 percent. Investments in early education can help children succeed in school and graduate from high school college- or career-ready, Zalkind said.
Health Insurance and Prenatal Care. More Newark children have health insurance, with an 18 percent increase in the number of children enrolled in NJ FamilyCare and Medicaid, the state’s free- or low-cost health insurance plan. This is the result of a sustained collaboration among city, county and state government agencies and community organizations, according to Zalkind.
The city also saw slight progress in the percent of women receiving late or no prenatal care, going from 41 percent in 2001 to 40 percent 2010. Newark women were still twice as likely to receive inadequate prenatal care compared to women statewide.
Foster Care. Following statewide trends, Newark saw a sharp 64 percent drop in the number of children removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect and placed in the state’s foster care system. In 2004, almost 2,400 Newark children were in an out-of-home placement, compared to 866 in 2013. While this is likely positive – children in foster care tend to face more difficulties than children living at home with their families – it is also critical that children are kept safe from abuse and neglect.
Juvenile Arrests. Newark’s juvenile arrests plummeted 60 percent from nearly 1,800 arrests in 2003 to 714 arrests in 2012, likely due to the city’s commitment to reducing juvenile crime and its participation in the state’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), which works to intervene early to keep juveniles from going to detention and from committing repeat crimes.
“It is critical that we continue to work together to address the persistent problems that threaten the future of Newark’s children,” Zalkind said. “When all children thrive, it strengthens our neighborhoods, our schools, our towns and the state as a whole. Using data to drive decisions ensures that we will continue to make progress in the years to come.”