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Many concerns, few bright spots in Kids Count

June 5, 2012

PAWTUCKET — According to the latest data from the Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook, there are many reasons for concern over Pawtucket children and their future well being. Yet, there are also a few bright spots on the horizon to offset mostly grim statistics.
Rhode Island KIDS COUNT and the Pawtucket School Department Child Opportunity Zone co-sponsored a Pawtucket “Data in Your Backyard” event on Monday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, local business leaders, service providers and other interested members of the community were in attendance as Stephanie Geller, policy analyst for Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, presented findings from the 2012 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook.
Geller said that according to the 2012 Factbook, the median income of Pawtucket families has decreased over the past decade, while the median family income for the state has increased slightly. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) shows that the city's median family income of $37,892 per year is among the lowest in the state.
While Pawtucket's median family income has decreased, poverty has increased among the city's children, with more than one in four being characterized as living in poverty and one in 10 living in extreme poverty. The poverty level in 2011 was $18,123 for a family of three with two children and $22,811 for a family of four with two children. The extreme poverty level in 2011 was $9,062 for a family of three with two children and $11,406 for a family of four with two children.
Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, said that Pawtucket is one of the four cites they consider as “core cities” (along with Providence, Central Falls and Woonsocket) because it has one of the highest child poverty rates in the state.
While poverty exists in every community in Rhode Island, the core cities warrant special attention, says Bryant. Families living in these cities are more likely to have difficulty affording basic necessities, such as food, housing and health care, and children are less likely to do well in school and more likely to drop out, she noted in a press release.
As far as families receiving cash assistance, the KIDS COUNT data showed that in December 2011, 6 percent (961) of children in Pawtucket were receiving cash assistance. However, it was noted that in fiscal year 2011, for the second year in a row, the state budget included no state general revenue for cash assistance.
Data also showed that in October 2011, there were 7,153 Pawtucket children receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, an 88 percent increase in participation from 2005. It was also noted that in October 2011, an average of 1,776 (27 percent) of low-income children in Pawtucket participated in the Universal School Breakfast Program each day out of 6,531 who were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.
Pawtucket is also one of five school districts with a district-wide Universal School Breakfast Program which offers free breakfast to all children regardless of income. Yet, at 27 percent, the city's participation rate was lower than the state average of 36 percent and far lower than the rate of the three other core cities, which ranged 40 to 51 percent. Geller spoke of the importance of getting the local participation rate up, and said that some school districts have done this by offering school breakfast in the classroom at the beginning of the day.
Likewise, according to Census 2010, an estimated 1,160 Pawtucket children under age three were income eligible for enrollment in the Early Head Start program and an estimated 805 Pawtucket children ages three to four were eligible for the Head Start preschool program. However, KIDS COUNT data showed that in 2011, only 38 (3 percent) of these children were enrolled in Early Head Start, compared to the state average of serving 6.5 percent of eligible children under age three, and only 206 (28 percent) of these eligible children were enrolled in Head Start preschool compared to the state average of serving 43 percent of eligible children ages three to four.
A disturbing graph for Pawtucket had to do with the number of births to teens. Geller said that the teen birth rate per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17 is substantially higher in Pawtucket (30) than the state as a whole (17.3), but it is lower than the core city rate of 35.2. She added that Pawtucket's teen birth rate for females ages 18 to 19 is among the highest in the state at 89.5, compared to the state average of 37.5 and 48.2 for the core cities.
Pawtucket also had a high number of teenage girls giving birth repeatedly, Geller said, noting the impact this can have on a family's ability to escape the cycle of poverty. In Pawtucket, between 2006 and 2010, 107 births were repeat teen births, making up 17 percent of the 619 total teen births in Pawtucket during that period.
More negative statistics had to do with found cases of child abuse and neglect. In 2011 in Pawtucket, there were 359 victims of child abuse and neglect, a rate of 21.7 per 1,000 children, as compared to the state average of 14 per 1,000. KIDS COUNT found that Pawtucket's child abuse and neglect victim rate is also higher than the rate for the four core cities as a whole and has increased since the 2010 rate of 17.2 per 1,000 children.
Almost half (47 percent) of child abuse and neglect victims were under the age of six. The vast majority of these victims experienced neglect (79 percent), while 12 percent experienced physical abuse, 4 percent experienced sexual abuse, 2 percent experienced medical neglect, less that 1 percent experienced emotional abuse and 3 percent experienced some “other” type of abuse. Geller said the high number of neglect cases points for the need for better day care and support for working parents.
On the positive side, 2011 showed a decrease in the number of juveniles referred to Family Court and the Rhode Island Training School, Geller said. In 2011, 3,962 youths were referred to Family Court for 6,658 wayward and delinquent offenses, down from 4,288 youths and 7,493 offenses in 2010, and continuing a downward trend over the past four years.
Of the types of offenses, Geller pointed out that only 4 percent were for violent crimes, with the most being property crimes (24 percent) followed by disorderly conduct (21 percent), status offenses (age-related acts ) (20 percent), simple assault (10 percent), alcohol and drug offenses (8 percent), motor vehicle offenses (4 percent), weapons offenses (3 percent) and “other” (conspiracy, crank phone calls, computer crimes, etc.) (6 percent).
In the health area, Geller noted that the city has made great strides with lowering the number of children entering kindergarten with elevated blood lead levels from a high of around 40 percent back in 1997 to about 4 percent now. However, data gathered from 2006 to 2010 shows hospitalizations for asthma is on the rise, with Pawtucket at 2.9 per 1,000 children compared to the state rate of 2.2.
Additionally, in recent years, the percentage of Pawtucket mothers receiving delayed prenatal care has increased from 12.5 percent in 2001-2005 to 18.3 percent in 2006-2010. Pawtucket has the third highest percentage of mothers receiving delayed prenatal care in the state, Geller noted, and stressed that more support is needed in this area.
On the education side, Geller said students in Pawtucket continued to show improvement in reading proficiency in both the fourth and eighth grades. Between 2005 and 2011, the percentage of fourth grade students in Pawtucket public schools who scored proficient on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) increased 48 percent to 60 percent, and eighth graders' proficiency rate rose from 44 percent in 2005 to 67 percent in 2011.
Yet, progress has been much slower in math, where the district's fourth and eighth grade proficiency rates continue to be among the lowest in the state, Geller said. Between 2005 and 2011, the percentage of fourth grade students in Pawtucket who were proficient in math increased from just 42 percent to 48 percent and eighth graders only showed a slight improvement of 37 percent in 2005 to 38 percent in 2011. “The math skills are not good,” said Geller, adding that more resources need to be committed in this area at both the local and state level. “I hope to see some improvements when I come back in the next couple of years,” she stated.
Making the Pawtucket school district's job more challenging are statistics showing that in the 2010-2011 school year, 1,130 (13 percent) of Pawtucket's 8,787 students were English Language Learners, an increase of one percent over the previous year. Only Central Falls and Providence had higher rates. Pawtucket's student mobility (students who transfer in the middle of the school year) of 21 percent is the second highest in Rhode Island. Data shows that both factors effect children's performances on standardized tests.
Geller further stated that while Pawtucket's high school graduation rate shows continued improvement (from 48 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2011), it continues to be the lowest in the state. Pawtucket's rate of 63 percent of students graduating from high school in four years is lower than any school district except Woonsocket (which also has a 63 percent graduation rate) and lower than the state rate of 77 percent.
However, Geller noted the state-mandated reform plans that have been put into place for Shea and Tolman High Schools, and also said that measures currently being piloted such as an early-warning system for at-risk students and programs for students who need more than four years to fulfill requirements should work to improve Pawtucket's graduation figures.
Despite all of the various gloomy statistics, Geller said she feels “glimmers of hope,” especially in the education arena, where reform efforts are underway at the state and local levels. As a positive, Pawtucket also has full-day kindergarten in place, and the state budget includes funding for the expansion of pre-kindergarten programs, which the city would likely be a recipient of, she said.
While there have been cutbacks in the SNAP program that could make it harder for people to become eligible, Geller said there are additional federal funds available for home visiting programs to help families at risk, and various other resources designed to help children and their parents.
A meeting participant also pointed out a new Teen Outreach Program targeting middle school students that the Rhode Island Departmenmt of Health ia making available. She said it is designed to be a holistic approach to youth development that will include a health and sex education piece as well as “getting kids to focus on their future.”

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