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Kansas Is Ranked 16th for Child Well-Being, But Things May Not Be As They Appear

Kansas is the 16th best state in the nation, in terms of overall child well-being according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in this year's KIDS COUNT Data Book. The report covers 16 measures of child health, economic well-being, family and community, and education. But while Kansas is in the top-third overall, the economic picture for kids in Kansas is not so bright.

The report shows Kansas improving on all of the measures of health and education. Highlights include a drop in the percentage of children who are uninsured, and a decrease in the number of high school students who fail to graduate on time. But Shannon Cotsoradis, who heads the non-profit group Kansas Action for Children, is worried about another trend.

“We are seeing a growing number of children living in poverty. We have 134,ooo children that are living in poverty. In 2005 it was at 15 percent," she says. "Now we’re at 19 percent. And Kansas seems to be outpacing the nation, in terms of the growing number of children living in poverty. The percent change in Kansas is greater than the nation as a whole.”

But a related indicator has Cotsoradis even more concerned: the number of children living in high-poverty areas—neighborhoods where at least 30 percent of the households have incomes below the federal poverty line. In 2000, only 2 percent of Kansas children lived in high-poverty areas. But during the five-year period ending in 2011, that figure was up to 7 percent, three-and-a-half times the previous rate. Cotsoradis says people who live in high-poverty areas, even if they’re not poor themselves, feel the effects of depressed neighborhood vitality.

“Increased crime rates, fewer grocery stores, less access to health care, less access to transportation," she says. "There are a number of impacts, as a result, for everyone living in that community, not just poor families,”

Cotsoradis says once a neighborhood falls into that pattern, recovery is very difficult.  She says although the latest figures are from 2011—the first year of the Brownback Administration—the numbers show Kansas moving in the wrong direction, despite the governor’s stated commitment to reducing childhood poverty.

“That’s why Gov. Brownback worked with the Kansas Legislature to lower the tax burden of Kansans, so they can keep more of their own hard-earned money,” says Phyllis Gilmore, the head of the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

Gilmore says previous administrations bear the blame for the rising rate of child poverty illustrated by the KIDS COUNT report 

“This report clearly describes the devastating impact of Kansas’ lost decade of jobs from 2000 to 2010 on Kansas children and families,” she says.

Gilmore says more Kansans are working, and they’re keeping more of their paychecks, but there's still have a long way to go. On that latter point, Shannon Cotsoradis, of Kansas Action for Children, agrees saying that she hopes there is a move from a dialogue from about childhood poverty to action.

"There’s one more year left in the current administration" she says. "This was a state vision to reduce childhood poverty. That particular indicator is still moving in the wrong direction. It’s time to act. The clock is ticking,”