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South Carolina is (again) one of the states with the worst conditions for child welfare

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's (AECF) latest Kids Count Data Book, South Carolina children performed worse than the national average in all but two of 16 indicators of health, economic well-being, education and family in 2022.

Kids Count is an annual report that ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on the overall well-being of children. Overall, South Carolina ranked 40th.th in the country. South Carolina has been ranked there every year for the past five years, with a plus or minus point in the rankings. Last year, the state was ranked 41st.st.

The (not so) good news

In the four overarching categories of child welfare measured by the AECF, South Carolina’s best ranking was 36thin the Family and Community category. The state saw improvements in all four indicators within the category, which tracks rates of children in single-parent families, children living in households where the head of the household has not completed high school, children living in high-poverty areas, and teen births per 1,000 residents.

In South Carolina, 103,000 children were identified as living in families where the head of the household does not have a high school diploma. This corresponds to a rate of 9 percent, two percentage points better than the United States.

All other indicators in this category have improved within the state since the 2010s, but all remained either unchanged or slightly above U.S. rates.

South Carolina also ranked above the national average for the proportion of children living in high-cost households (where cost burden is generally defined as spending 30% or more of household income on housing costs). The proportion of children living in a high-cost household was 26%, below the U.S. average of 30%.

Caveat: A quarter of South Carolina's children lived in high-cost households, or about 287,000 children. And while the share of children identified by the AECF as living in poverty fell from 20% to 19% between 2019 and 2022, the total number of children living in poverty in the state was 211,000.

The bad news

AECF ranks South Carolina 46thth for the health category, which measures low birth weight rates, uninsured children, and childhood and adolescent mortality and obesity rates. For the last two indicators – obesity and mortality rates – South Carolina had an obesity rate of 38% among 10- to 17-year-olds and 39 childhood and adolescent deaths per 100,000.

In the United States, the obesity rate was 33% and deaths were 30 per 100,000. Like South Carolina, the death rate among children and adolescents in this country has increased since 2019 (from 25 per 100,000).

Scott Morgan

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South Carolina Public Radio

Childhood obesity is one of the weakest numbers in South Carolina in the 2024 Kids Count Data Book. Lack of access to good food in poor neighborhoods could be a contributing factor.

“It's important to point out that the number of deaths among children and adolescents in South Carolina is at an all-time high,” said Sarah Knox, senior director of policy and advocacy at the Children's Trust of South Carolina. “When we look at these numbers, they are alarming.”

Although the reasons for these deaths were not listed in the data book, the 465 deaths among children and adolescents in South Carolina in 2022 were the highest number ever listed in AECF data.

While Knox said there is “nothing really surprising to discover in this data,” he added that organizations that work on child welfare in the state are seeing progress, such as the improvement in SC Ready test scores for fourth-graders, which is due to more active investment by the state.

But South Carolina still has a long way to go to move beyond its current status as the state with the lowest child health scores.

“We absolutely must focus on these indicators,” Knox said of the AECF's latest figures, “if we are to improve the overall well-being of children in the state.”

Anna Harden

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