12 facts every parent should know about RI kids

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – From rising high school graduation rates to a spike in babies exposed to addictive opiates, the annual book of statistics on Rhode Island children and their parents released by the state’s leading child advocacy organization has lots of important information.

The Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook will be formally unveiled at a breakfast event Monday, but Eyewitness News got a sneak peek at all of the data. (You can read the full Factbook here.)

Here’s an overview.

1. There were at least 1,057 homeless children in Rhode Island’s public schools last year.
Federal law requires states to identify homeless children and provide services that will help them in school. Of the 1,057 children identified as homeless during the 2015-16 school year, 64% were living with other families, 25% lived in shelters, 10% lived in hotels or motels and about 1% were unsheltered. Only Barrington, East Greenwich, Foster, Jamestown, Little Compton, New Shoreham, Scituate and Tiverton reported zero homeless children attending to public schools last year. Three communities – Providence, Middletown and Warwick – all reported more than 100 children as homeless. The state is trying to address the problem. In 2012, officials approved “Opening Doors Rhode Island,” a strategic plan that called for ending chronic homelessness and homelessness for veterans in five years and homelessness for families and youth in 10 years.

2. Rhode Island is making huge improvements when it comes to lead poisoning.
It wasn’t so long ago that nearly 60% of three-year-olds in Rhode Island had elevated blood lead levels, meaning they had greater than five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. That figure has dropped to just 8% for kids scheduled to enter kindergarten in 2018. High lead rates are still above 10% in the urban core – Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket – but those communities were posting elevated lead levels above 70% in 2000. Experts say elevated lead levels can lead to health problems and poor academic performance in school.

3. Nearly one in four young kids live in poverty.
Between 2011 and 2015, 16,045 children under the age of six – about 24% of that group statewide – were living in poverty, meaning a family of three with two children earned less than $19,337 a year and a family of four with two children earned less than $24,339. The statistic is significant because kids who experience poverty in early childhood and for extended periods are more likely to be unhealthy and struggle in school. When it comes to all children living in poverty, Rhode Island ranks worst in New England and No. 24 nationally.

4. The opioid crisis is hitting Rhode Island kids.
This is scary. In 2006, about 37.2 babies per 10,000 births in Rhode Island were diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which means they were exposed to addictive opiate drugs while in the mother’s womb. That rate grew to 103.8 per 10,000 babies in 2015, a massive spike that can be linked to the increase in opiate abuse throughout the country in recent years. That trend doesn’t appear to falling either. Last month, state officials expressed concern about a new surge in overdoses.

5. A lot of children live in families where no parent works full-time.
The number has dropped slightly since 2010, but 30% of children in 2015 lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment. That’s one percentage point higher than the national average. As one might expect, the vast majority of children living in families with no parent in the labor force are living with only one parent.

6. Childhood health coverage and immunization rates are high.
Rhode Island ranks No. 15 nationally – and No. 5 in New England – when it comes to children with health insurance coverage, at 96.6%. Nationally, about 4.8% of children lack health coverage. On the immunization side, 77% of Rhode Island children ages 18 months to 35 months have received all of the vaccinations recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice, compared with 72% nationally.

7. Only half of parents who owe child support pay on time.
This is a rate that barely budged between 2007 and 2016. Last year, 49% of parents with court orders for child support paid on time and in full. Parents who make their child support payments are more likely to be involved in their kids’ lives, both emotionally and financially, experts say.

9. School suspensions are trending down.
Districts across the state have made a concerted effort to reduce out-of-school suspensions in recent years, in part because of heightened concerns about minority students disproportionately facing discipline compared to white students. Since the 2010-11 school year, out-of-school suspensions have fallen 52%. That number could continue to decline because districts are focusing on reducing suspensions for non-violent offenses, like insubordination. During the 2015-16 school year, 48% of the 11,736 out-of-school suspensions in Rhode Island were for non-violent wrongdoing.

9. High school graduation rates are on the rise.
The percentage of Rhode Island high school students earning their diploma on time has grown from 70% in 2007 to 85% last school year, with the dropout rate falling to 8%. While the state is trending in the right direction, achievement gaps remain. The dropout rate among English language learners – a fast-growing population in Rhode Island – is 17% and only 63% of students with disabilities are completing high school in four years. For low-income students, the four-year graduation rate is 79%.

10. Student absenteeism remains a problem.
A student is considered chronically absent when they miss at least 18 days of school during the year – in other words, those are students who are missing nearly one month of school. Overall, 15% of middle school students and 26% of high school students were chronically absent during the 2015-16 school year. When you break it down by grade, the 14% chronic absenteeism rate in kindergarten students is the highest among elementary schoolers. By seventh grade, the rate ticks up to 16% and gradually grows to 32% among high school seniors.

11. In the urbans, a lot of moms don’t have high school diplomas.
Between 2011 and 2015, 21% of new mothers in Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket had less than a high school diploma. In Central Falls, 36% of births were to moms who didn’t complete high school. Both the state and national average is 12%. Parental educational attainment is one factor when it comes to children who live in poverty and struggle in school.

12. Birth rates are down.
Speaking of mothers, babies born to Rhode Island women dropped from 12,010 in 2007 to 10,212 in 2016, a 15% decline. Similarly, the state’s child population decreased 15% between 2000 and 2015. The state now has the fifth-lowest birth rate in the country.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan