South Carolina received low marks for children’s well-being recently when the Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation was released, and Horry and Georgetown counties fall in the middle of child poverty rankings for the state’s 46 counties.
The report measures children’s overall health and includes a breakdown by economics, education, health and family/community. South Carolina was ranked 43rd overall out of the 50 states, broken down as 34th in economic well-being, 40th in education and health, and 43rd in family/community.
The state showed a startling 13 percent increase in children living in poverty from 2008 to 2010 and a 23 percent increase in children whose parents lacked secure employment from 2005 to 2010. Poverty in South Carolina is a household income of $23,050 or less for a family of four.
Horry County ranks 13th in the state for the percentage of children who live below poverty level at 26 percent, according to the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, which provides state information for the Kids Count report. Horry trails the top three counties - Lexington, York and Dorchester – which registered 15 percent, 18 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
Greenville and Charleston counties, which have the state’s largest school districts just ahead of Horry, come in at 21 percent and 25 percent, respectively, for children living below poverty level.
Georgetown County is ranked 32nd in the state with 34 percent of children living in poverty. Hampton County has the same percentage, with counties such as Orangeburg at 33 percent, Florence at 38 percent and Marion at 39 percent.
Georgetown County’s 34 percent was a jump from numbers that stayed around 27 percent since 2005, with the exception of 30 percent in 2006. Horry’s percentage has remained in the 20s over the same period.
Bett Williams, spokeswoman for the Children’s Trust, said the group will have more information comparing different factors county by county in the next six to eight weeks.
A visit to the Myrtle Beach Health Department Monday showed several young families awaiting services. All of them were new to the area but had formed more positive feelings about what was available locally than what was avaiable in the places they had left behind.
Amanda Sudduth moved to Myrtle Beach in April from Leesburg, Va., with her four children - ages 5, 6, 8 and 11 - to be near family. A Medicaid recipient, she was there for the first time to get shots for the kids and said her wait hadn’t been long, something others said had been a problem in other places.
“It is packed,” in Alabama, said Naquanda Rush, who moved to the area in December with her two children, ages 2 and 7 months. Her experience in Myrtle Beach has been much better than in Alabama, she said, where there were so many more people needing services and the wait time was very long.
“It’s good here, much better than in Georgia,” said Demi Hall, who moved to the area 12 weeks ago from Claxton, Ga.
Hall was getting her 17-month-old daughter caught up on her shots and appreciated the fact that the department’s location was convenient. She said she doesn’t have a car, and that presented a huge problem for her reaching services in Georgia.
“It’s still hard on everybody, but the people here at this health department are very nice and seem to understand more.”
Poverty makes its mark in most areas of children’s lives, especially how they will fare in school. Of school-age children who attend Horry County Schools, 65 percent are eligible for free and reduced student meals (breakfast and lunch), which is based on federal standards that take into account the number of persons in the household as well as the household income level, said Teal Britton, district spokeswoman.
Britton said they have seen those numbers inch up slightly over time but not in a big jump. She said children and families have different types of needs depending on their situation; there is situational poverty, where something such as loss of employment has affected the family income, as well as generational poverty, which can include low literacy rates among adults in the family and a lack of resources.
Despite the high number for free and reduced student meals, Horry is considered property rich, which results in less school funding from the state than is given to neighboring counties. School district statistics also show that only 20 percent of people in Horry have children in the school system, Britton said.
Myrtle Beach resident Linda Jones falls into that category, having children and grandchildren, but none who are in area schools. She said she doesn’t have firsthand knowledge, but she knows there is a child poverty problem from what she reads and is aware of organizations, such as Backpack Buddies, that help provide clothing and other items for children.
“I’ve thought maybe I should volunteer or something,” said Jones, who in the past has volunteered with an animal shelter. She said she doesn’t really know the answer, and that residents already pay enough in taxes, but she’d listen to any good suggestions that could lead to some solutions.
“It’s hard when you think of children not having what they need,” Jones said, “but how do you help?”
Britton said childhood poverty is the one risk factor for students that holds true over time, and it can present many complex problems for educators to solve. She said the district provides a kindergarten program for 4-year-olds as one way to enable children who need additional help to be successful entering mandatory kindergarten the next year.
“Our program is much, much larger than what we are required to serve,” said Britton, who said the district receives state funding for 400 to 500 children but serves 1,300. “The majority are paid for through local funds as a preventative strategy to ensure that kindergarteners begin school on a more equal playing field.”
Pre-school programs are gaining popularity in the state, according to the Kids Count report. Fifty-four percent of pre-school-age children did not attend pre-school in 2010, which was an 8 percent decrease from 2008.
Britton said the district’s program is literacy rich, with group work, social skills and other learning experiences that increase a child’s chances of being successful in school. The number of participants has to be restricted because of economics, and she said it is one of the district’s more expensive programs, as each class can have no more than 20 students and is required to have both a teacher and teaching assistant.
Problems with reading level can come back into play as children advance through the grades, despite early intervention efforts. Britton said. Third grade is a particular benchmark for students, as the first few schools years are when they are learning to read, but afterward, they must be able to read to learn.
“The more intensive instruction becomes, when it comes to reading level, those factors of poverty start to pop back up,” Britton said, “but whether rich or poor, if parents value reading, the children are most likely going to become a better reader. The biggest influence on a child is their home environment.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.