April 26, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 15

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    More than one in five Illinois children are living in poverty, according to 2000 State of the Child Report

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Forty-one percent of children in Cook County and 29 percent of children statewide receive one or more kinds of help from the state, either in welfare assistance, child welfare services or mental and developmental support, according to “The State of the Child in Illinois: 2000,” a report published by the Chapin Hall Center for Children. The report marks the first time that the level of state assistance to children in such a wide array of programs has been fully documented.

    “More than 50 percent of the clients in Illinois’ human service agencies are children, and 70 percent of the children use more than one of the services offered by the state,” said Robert Goerge, a senior author of the report and Associate Director of the Chapin Hall Center for Children.

    These high levels of need continue despite a modest but sustained decline in the child-poverty rate, which went from 22.3 percent to 20.6 percent between 1985 and 1995. This was accompanied by improvement on a number of child well-being indicators over the last 10 to 15 years. These include decreases in births to teenagers, child mortality rates, abuse and neglect, and the number of homicides involving children, as well as improvements in academic achievement scores and other educational outcomes.

    “The State of the Child in Illinois: 2000” is the most comprehensive report available on the physical, educational and social condition of the state’s three million children. Funded by a group of foundations, it is intended to provide a baseline for policymakers working on child welfare issues, and to inform those interested in the well-being of children from a variety of roles and perspectives, including elected officials, child advocates, public and private agency administrators, other professionals in the child- and family-serving fields, community-based organizations, the philanthropic community, researchers, the general public and the media. In addition to Goerge, the other senior author of the report is Bong Joo Lee, also a Research Fellow at the Chapin Hall Center.

    “Overall, there is progress,” Goerge said. “Still, more than one in five of our children are living in poverty, and the progress that was made was not evenly shared. One of the greatest concerns documented in the report is the continuing and sometimes increasing disparity between white children and minority children, especially African-American children.”

    In Illinois, African-American children are five times as likely as white children to live in poverty and Hispanic children are three times as likely to do so. In addition, African-American children are more than eight times as likely and Hispanic children three times as likely as white children to die as a result of violence.

    Infant mortality rates have declined overall, but, again, there remains a significant disparity between white and African-American children, with rates twice as high as those for any other racial/ethnic group from 1989 to 1998 even after noteworthy improvement. Low birth weights among African-American babies may account for continuing higher infant mortality rates among African Americans, according to the report. The low birth weight problem is more common among African Americans than for any other group, and the prevalence of low-birth-weight babies has decreased little over the past 15 years.

    The persistence of low birth weight as a threat to infants signals a major limitation in the improvement of children’s health in Illinois. “On many levels, the state of children’s health is stable or improving,” Lee said. “However, the improvements have come largely in areas of health that can be addressed through medical care. There has been less progress in preventing problems. While we have had some success in reducing infant mortality through medical interventions, we also find that many women, especially young women, still do not receive adequate prenatal care during their pregnancies, and this is implicated in the persistence of low birth weights.”

    The report contains the most recent data available from a wide variety of state and federal sources. The information paints a mixed picture for children as they enter the new century, with some signs, such as infant mortality, showing promise, while others, such as teen violence, continuing to cause concern. Among the findings in the report are these:

    n Infant mortality rates have been declining steadily since 1985. The researchers found that for children younger than 1 year, the rate of death declined from 12 per 1,000 live births in 1985 to 9 per 1,000 in 1998. Reasons for the decline include improved medical procedures for children under the age of 1 month and increased awareness of ways parents can prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    n After a steady increase that peaked in the mid-1990s, the death rate among teenagers is declining, due to a drop in the murder rate. Overall, the proportion of all deaths of children aged 15 to 17 attributable to non-accidental injuries dropped from 38 percent in 1994 to 27 percent in 1998. African-American teens were the most likely to be killed in violent incidents, even as death rates among them dropped from 139 per 100,000 in 1994 to 63 per 100,000 in 1998. Among whites, the rate for death by violence dropped from 5 per 100,0000 to 3.6 per 100,000.

    n A decreasing proportion of students report feeling unsafe in school, with the proportion in Chicago falling from 18 percent in 1993 to 13 percent in 1999. The proportion of students who reported ever carrying a weapon to school increased slightly to 11 percent during the period.

    n The number of children who were victims of abuse or neglect declined by 35 percent from 1994 to 1999.

    n Illinois children showed improvements in many educational measures, such as rate of attendance and achievement, but problems persisted. The graduation rate among students in Chicago Public Schools increased from 49 percent in 1994 to 65 percent in 1998, a figure well below the suburban Cook County average of 86 percent.

    n Teen pregnancy has steadily fallen in recent years and reached 12.4 percent of all births in 1998, its lowest level since the early 1960s.

    n Family structure is a strong predictor of poverty. Only about 8 percent of the children living with two parents lived in poverty in 1995. About 51 percent living in mother-only homes were poor.

    The decade of the 1990s was one of growing prosperity, but the blessings of the boom were distributed unevenly. The ethnic and racial characteristics of children in poverty have changed, with the share of white poor children in the total falling from 39 percent in 1985 to 29 percent in 1995. The black portion increased from 47 percent to 52 percent and the Hispanic portion from 14 percent to 18 percent.

    Increasingly, minorities are becoming a larger portion of the Illinois child population, and Chapin Hall researchers estimate that by the year 2020, the number of Hispanic children will begin to exceed the number of African-American children. By 2025, white and minority children will be nearly equal portions of the population.

    The researchers used more than 40 data sources, most being governmental, in compiling information for this report. State agencies, including the Illinois departments of Human Services and Children and Family Services, were the sources for the largest portion of the data. Federal data sources, such as the census and the Centers for Disease Control, and some at the city level, including the Chicago Police Department, also were tapped.

    One of the data sources was Chapin Hall’s own Integrated Database on Children’s Services in Illinois. The IDB is a resource for policy and research concerned with children’s experiences in the human services system in Illinois. The database was built over the course of more than a decade by Chapin Hall researchers working with state agencies to secure access to their administrative data–data routinely collected but rarely used for research, policymaking, management and evaluation. Putting together the data from multiple agencies has enabled researchers to provide the agencies and others with a comprehensive view of the problems and human service histories of children and families.

    “The availability of data on children in Illinois has greatly improved in recent times,” said Goerge, “but there are still weaknesses in the information base in every topical area concerning children. Though we’ve come a long way, there is still a long way to go before we will have sufficient data for comprehensive and effective monitoring of child well-being in Illinois.”

    Chapin Hall Center for Children has issued two previous State of the Child Reports, one in 1980 and another in 1985.

    Kraft Foods Inc., the Helen V. Brach Foundation, the Frederick E. and Ida M. Hummel Foundation, the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, The Field Foundation of Illinois Inc., the Polk Bros. Foundation, the Michael Reese Health Trust, WGN-TV Children’s Charities, and The Chicago Community Trust funded the current study.