Pamela’s article today provides a challenge: How to hold our representatives accountable. One way to do that is to participate in the 10Questions project by asking questions of your candidates in local, state, and federal elections. Check out this post about the project and help make sure your questions get priority!
A recent Kansas City Star article boasted the headline Missouri’s child-welfare ranking improves in national study. I eagerly read the story about The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2010 Kids Count annual report, which is an annual analysis of child welfare statistics around the nation. What I found was that Missouri’s performance improved slightly, but we shouldn’t break out the champagne and cue the band just yet. When it comes to making kids count, Missouri, just like a lot of other states, all too often has the wrong priorities.
Missouri ranked 31st among all states and that is an improvement from last year when we ranked 33rd. However, the 2010 Kids Count study, which uses indicators like child poverty, teen pregnancy, child death and high school graduation rates to track child welfare, warns that far too many children are living in poverty and those numbers are expected to increase.
Over 250,000 Missouri children live at or below the poverty line, an economic marker that indicates children barely have enough support to survive much less thrive. Although the media’s spin of Missouri’s 2010 Kids Count numbers has been positive, the reality is that our marginal improvement still leaves thousands of Missouri children under-served, vulnerable and at risk.
It’s true that the report had some bright spots for Missouri. There were decreases in child death, teen death and teen birth rates while the percent of teens who failed to graduate high school or failed to attend school also declined. But the infant mortality rate increased by 4 percent and we still rank 40th overall in child deaths for children ages 1 to 14.
One would think that child welfare would be a top priority in a state where politicians running for office regularly list their traditional family values among their qualifications, but that is not the case. Leaders in the Missouri state legislature have the wrong priorities and Missouri children and families continue to pay the price. The 2010 Missouri Legislative Session closed with leaders failing to close a jobs deal backed by the Governor. In a subsequent special session, and after a 20-hour filibuster, lawmakers eventually passed a bill to save 4,000 jobs at a Kansas City auto plant. At the same time, social service programs that directly impact the lives of children and families saw their already anemic budgets slashed even more. Yet while failing to address Missouri’s economic challenges and slashing social service programs to the bone, Missouri state legislators managed to pass an abortion restriction bill that will do nothing to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies in the state.
A shinning example of those wrong priorities was Representative Cynthia Davis, Chair of the House Children and Families Committee, who refused to hold a hearing on a bill designed to close a legal loophole that allows unlicensed baby sitters to continue to care for children while being investigated in a criminal matter. In an email sent to the mother of the child whose death inspired the law, Representative Davis said, “Our committee focuses on abortion issues and we have had a number of pro-life bills to deal with this year. There are over 11,000 babies killed every year through intentional abortion in Missouri alone. Every year we wait to pass reforms that can be corrected by reshaping our abortion laws, we have thousands more unborn babies whose lives are ended in violent deaths. I know that your story does not involve an abortion, but our committee has been charged with this duty and we must fulfill our primary mission.”
It would be easy to dismiss this as just another example of Representative Davis behaving badly, but the fact that she was allowed to continue as Chair of the House Children and Families Committee after publicly declaring that she would only hear bills dealing with abortion speaks volumes about the apathy toward child welfare from the leadership in the Missouri House.
Missouri’s performance in the 2010 Kids Count report is not an opportunity to celebrate; it is an opportunity to examine our policies and our lack of funding for programs that serve children and families. Missouri politicians aren’t the only ones with the wrong priorities. This is an election year and Missouri’s performance in this report should have inspired a barrage of questions from the press about how candidates would address our shameful infant mortality rate and whether they have a proactive plan to deal with the anticipated increase in the number of children living in poverty in the state. Instead there were a series of articles reporting on our improvement over last year’s numbers.
Missouri children deserve better. They deserve our focus rather than our apathy. Our children deserve better programs rather than funding cuts that leave behind programs in name only and eliminate necessary services. As a Missourian, I don’t look at our improved ranking in the 2010 Kids Count report with pride – we can do better, our children deserve better and our legislators need show just how much kids count in Missouri next Legislative Session.
Click here to see how your state ranked in the 2010 Kids Count annual report.