Alabama ranked 47th in the nation in child well-being, according to this year’s Alabama Kids Count Data Book, published by VOICES for Alabama’s Children , and the poor ranking comes before the impacts of COVID-19.
The state’s poor ranking is also a drop from Alabama’s ranking last year of 44th in the nation. Alabama improved or remained the same in 14 of 16 categories studied in the report, but the improvements were outpaced by other states.
“We have actually not really gotten worse, but we’re not improving as fast as other states,” said Stephen Woerner, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children, a Montgomery children’s advocacy nonprofit that helps compile the report.
Woener, speaking to APR on Monday, said that the data collected for the report was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, and it may be two years before enough data is compiled to determine the impact the pandemic has had on Alabama’s children. This year’s Kids Count book will be a critical benchmark used to measure those impacts, he said.
“I don’t think there’s a single indicator in this book, beyond the demographics, that is not going to be impacted. Whether it’s food security, or infant mortality. Just across the board. Across all 70 indicators. All of them are going to see impacts,” Woener said.
He’s especially paying attention to COVID-19’s impact on education in the state, Woerner said.
“With remote learning and kids being out of school, schools closing down and that being so sporadic and community specific, we’re going to see impacts that are significant and not even across the board,” Woerner said.
Woerner also stressed that the pandemic hasn’t brought about new problems, but only worsened existing inequities and challenges facing children and their families statewide.
“A good way to look at that is the childcare system,” Woerner said. “Access to affordable, high quality, safe childcare. That system was already incredibly fragile to begin with, and COVID has decimated it.”
The state got down as low as 10 percent of child care centers open in April, and has increased to 85 percent open in mid-October, but of those open, the centers are averaging 66 percent capacity, Woerner said.
“We’ve been told by the national level that as many as 40 percent of child care providers may be out of business by the end of the year, if we don’t do a significant influx of federal funds to help support it,” Woerner said.
Alabama ranked 45th in economic well being, but improved slightly from 2010 to 2018, dropping from 28 percent of children living in poverty to 24 percent during that timeframe.
The state is seeing improvements in third grade literacy and Alabama’s pre-K program continues to expand, Woerner said.
“We’ve seen really good places where our investments have paid off, but we’re going to have to continue to prioritize them,” Woerner said.
The report did find racial disparities in education, however. During the 2018-2019 school year. Black students were suspended at a rate of 19 percent, which was twice as high as all other races, at a rate of 9.9 percent or less.
“We’ve got to continue to highlight those disparities and recognize that we can’t afford to fail any of our kids, and our kids are not inherently failures,” Woerner said.