March 22 • 02:29 AM

State's woes impact family life

Economy taking toll on child well-being across area and in Lapeer County according to Kids Count survey

August 05, 2009
TRI-CITY AREA — It seems the state's economic woes are taking a toll on family life in Lapeer County and throughout Michigan according to the Kids Count report released last week by the Michigan League for Human Services.

The report is part of a national project by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which looks at 10 key areas to determine child well being and ranks the states from best to worst. Michigan ended up in the 27th spot.

"Once again we're seeing the growing poverty and unemployment as the most negative trends affecting children in Michigan," says Jane Zehnder-Merrell, a senior research associate at the Michigan League for Human Services and director of the Kids Count in Michigan project. "This is a huge concern this year because so many of our programs aimed at helping vulnerable children are eyed for cuts to balance the state budget."

Results are posted on a county-by- county basis, and reflect the most recent figures available — most from 2007 and some from 2006.

While Lapeer County's population remained about the same — 92,375 in 2006 and 91,723 in 2007 — unemployment jumped from 7.8% to 8.5% in that same time period.

In 2006 there were 4,066 students in the county receiving free and reduced price lunches. In 2007 the figure rose to 4,262.

Unfortunately, the number of births to mothers who had late or no prenatal care also increased from 35 in 2006 to 44 in 2007. The number of births with "less than adequate prenatal care" remained steady at 173 both years.

Births to teens under age 20 decreased slightly with 81 reported in 2006 and 79 reported in 2007. Total births in the county also decreased from 990 in 2006 to 960 in 2007.

Unfortunately, a decrease is also reflected in the number of children ages 19 to 35 months with all immunizations with 67.4% reported in 2006 and 65% in 2007.

On the rise, however, are the number of children ages 0-17 in families investigated for neglect or abuse. In 2006, there were 1,081 such investigations. That number climbed to 1,114 in 2007.

Confirmed cases of abuse and/or neglect took a dramatic rise from 149 in 2006 to 256 in 2007. Children ages 0-5 living in confirmed conditions of abuse or neglect almost doubled from 58 in 2006 to 104 in 2007.

In 2006 there were 26 Lapeer County children ages 0-17 in out of home care. That number rose to 42 in 2007. The number of children ages 0-5 in foster care also climbed from 13 in 2006 to 20 in 2007.

The figures are consistent with the rise in services being sought through the Human Development Commission's Lapeer office, says Debbie Marquardt, HDC's Lapeer County community liaison.

"We're definitely seeing more first time and new clientele," Marquardt says.

The HDC Lapeer office assists low and middle income families and offers a food program, emergency services, utility assistance, weatherization and energy education, various housing programs, and Early Head Start, she adds.

The Early Head Start program is aimed at helping infants, toddlers up to age 3, pregnant women and their families who qualify with a variety of services. All 17 slots available in Lapeer County are filled, says Linda Schloesser, EHS family community educator.

"We have had an increase in requests for services," Schloesser says. "There is a great social need."

So great, she adds, that there is a waiting list for the federally funded program.

EHS is a home based program, Schloesser explains, where parents and children learn skills for child development, family development, goal setting and more. Health-related issues for children are also addressed, and individualized lesson plans are provided for parents based on a variety of assessments.

EHS also offers parental support workshops, play groups, and CARE (Caring Adults Receiving Education) which is open to anyone who cares for children—from day care providers to grandparents at no charge.

"We know that growing up in poverty has lifelong consequences," Zehnder-Merrell says. "Programs aimed at reducing those negative consequences, such as early childhood education and family support programs, can make a huge difference in improving the trajectories of development."

Qualification for EHS is based on income and special needs. For more information contact Trina Bodeis, EHS enrollment specialist at 810-667-7511.

For information on other services offered through the HDC Lapeer County office call 810-664-7133.

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