Mixed results for Iowa's children in Iowa Kids Count Report

Report: Health indicators are up, but welfare "tough"

Judy Jenkins (left) oversees craft time in her pre-kindergarten class at Hoover Elementary School in Iowa City on Tuesday, February 10, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Judy Jenkins (left) oversees craft time in her pre-kindergarten class at Hoover Elementary School in Iowa City on Tuesday, February 10, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Introduction: Outlook still tough for some Iowa families

The health and education of Iowa's children has generally improved since 2000, according to the 2013 Iowa Kids Count report. But the economic well-being that their families face has not.

The report, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has data looking at 20 different indicators of child and family well-being, including child poverty, food assistance, high school graduation rates and teen births.

It also provides data on a county, state and national level as well as compares rural with urban areas.

“The take-aways are that Iowa is doing well in the health and education indicators — infant mortality, child and teen deaths, and the birthrate all dropped,” said Michael Crawford, the report's author and Child and Family Policy Center Senior Associate. “But the economic and welfare indicators show that the last five to six years have been tough for families.”

Teen birthrates, infant mortality see decline statewide

By Chelsea Keenan, The Gazette

Iowa's children are healthier than they were a little more than a decade ago, according to the 2013 Iowa Kids Count report.

The report found that health indicators at the state level showed an improvement since 2000 in six of the eight health-related measurements, including lower infant mortality rates and teen birthrates.

Other key health findings of the report:


Child and teen death rates were down across the state, falling 30 percent and 19.3 percent, respectively.

Low birthweight was up slightly statewide as well as in Linn and Johnson counties.

Prenatal care, which measures the percentage of live births in which the mother began prenatal care during the first trimester of pregnancy, climbed 18 percent from 2007 to 2013.

Infant mortality was down across the state, falling from a rate of 6.3 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 4.2 per 1,000 live births in 2013. Linn County's rate held steady at 4.4, while Johnson County's rate fell from 5.1 to 3.4.

Stephanie Trusty, a nurse at the Iowa Department of Public Health who works with low-income women and children, said several state-run programs have helped bring the infant mortality rate down, including education programs, transportation assistance to appointments, Medicaid enrollment and health screenings, which monitor for domestic abuse, depression and tobacco use.

“We also have social workers perform home visits” to check in on a mother after she gives birth, Trusty said. “This is to make sure the baby is feeding well and the mom is emotionally all right.”

'Erroneous conclusions'?

Child abuse and neglect cases have increased 31 percent across the state, the report found, rising from a rate per 1,000 of 12.9 in 2000 to 17 in 2013.

Linn County mirrored state averages, increasing 32.9 percent from a rate of 10.2 in 2000 to 13.6 in 2013. However, child abuse and neglect cases remained nearly the same in Johnson County, rising slightly from a rate of 11.2 per 1,000 to 11.6 per 1,000.


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But Amy McCoy, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Human Services, said those numbers could be deceiving because there was an exceptionally low number of child abuse cases in 2000.

“As a result, using 2000 as a base year for comparison can distort the view and lead to erroneous conclusions about the plight of children in Iowa,” she said.

McCoy added that while the rate still is higher than it should be, it has decreased over the past several years. She pointed to DHS's Better Results for Kids initiative — which deals with children and family welfare and was fully implemented in 2005 — as a reason for the recent turnaround in numbers.

Another bright spot in the report — the teen birthrate fell 35 percent statewide from 2000 to 2013. The report, which measured the percentage of females aged 15 to 19 years old giving birth, showed that 3.4 percent of teens gave birth in 2000 compared with 2.2 percent in 2013.

Linn and Johnson counties also saw a dramatic drop. The percentage of teenage girls to give birth fell from 3 percent to 1.8 percent in Linn County and 1.2 percent to 0.7 percent in Johnson County during that time.

Kristin Fairholm, executive director of sex education advocacy group Eyes Open Iowa, said the decline in teen births could be attributed to sex education being more widely addressed in schools.

Eyes Open Iowa, based in Des Moines, works with communities and schools around the state to provide young people with comprehensive, evidence-based sexual education that is age-appropriate. In 2014, the group trained 570 youth-serving providers to offer more effective sexual health education programming and worked with 135 not-for-profit agencies and clinics as well as 134 school districts to improve the way they address adolescent sexual health.

“A more holistic approach is taking place, where teens are not only given information on reproduction and birth control, but they are also receiving instruction on all non-sexual risk factors,” Fairholm said in an email.


Poverty rates, preschool enrollment increase in Linn and Johnson county schools

By Andrew Phillips, The Gazette

Schools in Linn and Johnson counties have more students from low-income families and more preschoolers now than they did at the beginning of the century, according to the 2013 Iowa Kids Count report.

Poverty rates in schools from both counties — measured by students' eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches — increased dramatically from 2000 to 2013, according to the report.

In 2013, 22 percent of Linn County students were eligible for the lunch program, up from 21 percent in 2000. Eligibility in Johnson County rose to 27 percent in 2013 from 16 percent in 2000.

Those increases mirror state and national trends.

In Cedar Rapids schools, at least, the increase in poverty can be attributed in part to the 2008 flood, said Paul Hayes, the Cedar Rapids Community School District's executive manager of student services.

That year also came in the midst of the recent recession.

Preschool enrollment also was up in the two counties. An average of U.S. Census Bureau data from 2008 to 2012 showed an approximate 9 percent increase since 2000 in the percentage of Linn County three- and four-year-olds who attend preschool, according to the report.


Johnson County preschool enrollment increased by 5 percent over the same period, with statewide numbers showing a 9 percent increase.

Judy Jenkins, a preschool teacher at Hoover Elementary School in Iowa City, said those increases can be attributed to the statewide public preschool program started in the mid-2000s and heightened awareness of the importance of preschool.

“More people are starting to realize how significantly important early learning is,” Jenkins said. “With the statewide (program), there's more availability without people having to pay.”

Under the state program, Jenkins said, preschool is free for all four-year-olds and for three-year-olds who have special needs.

High school graduation rates, eighth-grade math proficiency and fourth-grade reading proficiency did not see dramatic changes over the period examined in the report.

In Linn County, high school graduation rates decreased by 6 percent from 2000 to 2013, while eighth-grade math proficiency increased by 1 percent and fourth-grade reading proficiency rose by 4 percent from 2003 to 2013.

Graduation rates in Johnson County dropped by 5 percent from 2000 to 2013. Eighth-grade math proficiency and fourth-grade reading proficiency both fell by 6 percent from 2003 to 2013.

Statewide graduation rates increased slightly, by 1 percent, from 2000 to 2013. Eighth-grade math proficiency rose by 2 percent statewide from 2003 to 2013, while fourth-grade reading proficiency fell by 2 percent


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