Gov. Peter Shumlin today announced that Vermont is the third best state in the nation for the overall well-being of children and teens, according to a survey by the national KIDS COUNT program.
Vermont also ranked as the No. 1 state for child and teen health indicators, with noticeable decreases in teen drug and alcohol abuse, teen and child deaths, and numbers of youth lacking health insurance.
As children played at Montpelier’s Family Center for early child-care education, Shumlin claimed, “For every dollar that we spend on a center like this, to ensure every child gets a strong start, it means that we save $12 to $14 later on, because they don’t need other services offered by government.”
While the 2012 KIDS COUNT report, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, reports positive figures for Vermont’s young in health care, family and community, and education, indicators for economic well-being are less positive.
Ranked 12th in the nation for economic health for children, Vermont saw increases in child poverty and children in households burdened by high housing costs. According to official government data compiled by the national KIDS COUNT program, Vermonters under 18 living in households making less than the federal poverty line increased sharply from 13 percent in 2009, to 17 percent in 2010 (http://bit.ly/MmgFFS), a faster percentage increase than any other year in the past decade.
At 17 percent, the 2010 jump in poverty levels in Vermont, the latest year for which data is available from KIDS COUNT, compare poorly with rates in several neighboring states. New Hampshire’s rate increased 10 percent, Connecticut’s 13 percent, and Massachusetts’ 14 percent child. (http://bit.ly/MmgJFy) Maine and Rhode Island have slightly higher rates than Vermont, at 18 percent and 19 percent respectively.
Asked to comment, Shumlin cautioned about comparing poverty statistics across states without further context, adding, “We know that we’re generally in the same category as our neighbors.”
The increasing rates of Vermont children in households suffering from food insecurity is also noteworthy. In 2002 the share of such children stood at 15 percent, rising steadily to 21 percent in 2010. (http://bit.ly/MmgN8o)
Department of Children and Families Commissioner Dave Yacavone estimated that there are about 95,000 Vermonters on 3SquaresVT, the state’s food stamp program, acknowledging a “dramatic increase” in enrollment over the last three years. He said his department emphasized community outreach, to ensure that more children eligible for food assistance actually enroll.
But increasing enrollment “doesn’t happen overnight,” said Yacavone. Moreover, he explained, federal funding for food stamps could be in danger, because of proposals in the House of Representatives, though Yacavone hoped the Senate could prevent such cuts.
Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca wants to offer free or reduced breakfast and lunch at school for all children who need food, but he said a stigma still surrounds assistance. He said more children have been receiving free and reduced lunch, but he added that there isn’t enough funding to easily expand the program.
According to Yacavone, the governor allocated an additional $3 million in his budget this year for child-care services, and also hired 27 social workers over two years, the largest increase in child welfare services as far as Yacavone could remember.