County in step with state on kids’ well-being

The well-being of children in McHenry County trends closely to the rest of Illinois in many categories, according to a new national study.

The 23rd annual Kids Count Data Book tracks children state-by-state, focusing on economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation completes the national study. It was released last week and pairs with an Illinois Kids Count report published in February by Voices for Illinois Children in February.

In the majority of categories, the state ranks in the middle of the pack, said Larry Joseph, director of the fiscal policy center for Voices of Illinois Children.

The state stood out in health insurance coverage, preschool participation and child poverty rates.

Illinois ranked fourth in 2010 among the 50 states in health insurance coverage for children – 4 percent uninsured statewide compared with the national average of 8 percent, data show.

In McHenry County, the number of children enrolled in Medicaid and other related programs more than doubled to 24,000 in 2011 from 9,500 in 2005. That was a higher growth rate than the state, which increased by about 45 percent, Joseph said.

“The high rating reflects the state’s successful efforts over the last 10 years to expand access through Medicaid and other programs,” he said.

The state also ranked fifth in preschool participation with 54 percent of children 3 and 4 years old attending a public or private school.

But those numbers can be misleading, Joseph said, because investments in early childhood education have declined in the wake of state budget cuts. Fewer children have access to preschool since enrollment numbers peaked in 2009.

Participation in state-funded preschool programs has dropped from more than 95,000 in 2009 to an estimated 77,000 in 2012. Additional budget cuts for the 2013 fiscal year could result in the loss of access for another 8,000 children, data shows.

The 18 percent enrollment decline in McHenry County over that same time period trends closely with the rest of the state, Joseph said.

“Illinois had become a leader in early childhood education,” Voices for Illinois Children President Gaylord Gieseke said in a news release. “Unfortunately, that progress has been eroding.”

The national report also shows that more than 300,000 Illinois children live in high-poverty communities, compared with 262,000 at the beginning of the decade. The proportion of Illinois children in high-poverty communities – 10 percent – is the third highest in the Midwest after Michigan and Ohio.

McHenry County child poverty rates are lower than the statewide average, but trending similarly, Joseph said. The county saw an increase to 10 percent in 2010 from 6 percent in 2005, while the state saw an increase to 19 percent from 16 percent.

The national trend over the same time period showed an increase to 22 percent from 19 percent, according to the study.

“During the recession, child poverty rates have gone up substantially, and have done so in most other states, as well,” Joseph said. “McHenry County is well below the state average, but the increase was greater than the state.”

Overall, the state ranked 21st on children’s well-being and was considered to be “getting better,” the reports states.

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