The quality of life for Alabama children has been improving since 2010, according to a nationwide study from child-advocacy groups.
“In the ratings, we improved in 11 out of 16 categories, stayed the same in four, and went down in one,” said Rhonda Mann, deputy director of Voices for Alabama’s Children, an Alabama child-advocacy organization.
According to 2017 data, fewer children are living in poverty than in 2010, down to 25 percent from 28 percent, or 265,000 children. More Alabama children have health insurance too, with 6 percent being uninsured in 2010, and 3 percent in 2017, or 36,000 children.
The only rating the state got worse in was the number of 3- and 4-year-olds not in pre-K programs, up to 57 percent from 56 percent. It’s worth mentioning Alabama does not have publicly funded programs for 3-year-olds, though, so the number mostly applies to 4-year-olds.
There might be multiple factors that go into why that number got worse, but advocates note the number of children in the 3-to-4 age range fluctuates from year to year.
“The reason you get changes sometimes are because of fluctuations in the child population,” said Mann.
Although the percentage increased, the general trend of more kids in state funded pre-K programs has been increasing over time.
“The number has gone up significantly over the years,” said Jeana Ross, secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.
According to Ross, in 2012 there were 219 classrooms supported by the department, and this year there are more than 1,000. Currently about 38 to 40 percent of 4-year-olds in Alabama are enrolled in a pre-K program, and Ross said there are plans to get that number even higher.
“Our goal is to serve 70 percent of the 4-year-olds in the state,” said Ross.
According to Ross, in 2016 Calhoun County had 1,349 4-year-olds, and 414 were receiving some sort of state funding for their education. She said some of those children were in private programs or church schools, but still received funding in order to keep the quality of education consistent.
Cleburne County had 169 4-year-olds in 2016, 72 of which were in state funded classrooms. Talladega County had 907 4-year-olds, with 306 in state funded classrooms. And St. Clair County had 2,619 4-year-olds, with 306 in state funded classrooms.
Alabama ranked 44 out of 50 among the states in overall child well-being, with New Hampshire ranking first and New Mexico at 50.
This ranking reflects a combination of four factors measured across all states: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
Six out of the 10 top-ranked states are in the Northeast, and states in Appalachia and the Southeast made up almost all of the bottom 18 ranks, except for California and Alaska.
But children in low-ranked states are still seeing their lives improve, according to Mann.
Mann says some states are investing more and seeing more improvement at a faster rate, leading to them being ranked higher. While there may be many contributing factors, one could be the economic disparity between states, as regions with more economic resources are able to invest more in social programs.
Linda Bibb, director of the Calhoun County Department of Human Resources, said in her opinion child welfare has been getting better, “but it depends on each county’s makeup.”
One area of concern Bibb noted was an increase in substance use among parents in Calhoun County, which she sees as relating to the opioid epidemic.
“Some counties are hit harder and causes an increase in pickup of children, especially here in Calhoun County,” Bibb said.
Even if there are problem areas and some states have better outcomes than others, the fact is Alabama is doing better than it has in the past.