The annual survey is called “Kids Count.” And during the dizzying pace of the Legislature, replete with Cindy Hill, guns and Medicaid, it was easy to overlook the results of this annual report.
And that may be the real problem: Every year Kids Count looks at the overall health and opportunities for children in Wyoming. The danger, of course, is that the survey has become routine and therefore the results are somewhat expected.
The danger doesn’t stop there, however. If the Kids Count report is simply passed over, it means that issues facing children will go unanswered and unheeded.
It’s easy to read through the sobering results of the survey and feel pity. But the problems the survey points to are indeed nebulous. That is, no one group owns the majority of the problem. And no one root cause can be blamed for the poor results.
To make matters worse, everyone is for the children. We’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would say they’re not for children. Paradoxically, though, it’s almost impossible to find any one group who can step up and remedy these issues.
For example, Natrona County ranks No. 9 in the survey of the largest 11 Wyoming counties. The report measures childhood well-being.
It’s important to note that Natrona County wasn’t just being compared to other urban areas around the country. This is Natrona County being compared with other Wyoming counties. Albany County ranked No. 1 for the second year in a row.
Star-Tribune staffer Joshua Wolfson reported, “Between 2001 and 2011, Natrona County experienced a 32 percent rise in the number of children from poor families who are eligible for free or reduced school lunches.”
That means nearly 40 percent of students qualified for free or reduced meals in 2011, the most recent year available.
“The percentage of mothers with inadequate prenatal care increased 15 percent between 2006 and 2011,” Wolfson went on to report.
These statistics are sobering, and we doubt there are many who wouldn’t be at least alarmed. With the boom and growth of Casper, it seems a bit incongruous that children in the community continue to lag behind.
Yet, the situation is probably not so shocking as the Star-Tribune reports an increase in the number of people seeking assistance from charitable organizations and food shelf programs. Moreover, places like House of Hope have closed and Poverty Resistance has scaled back.
The problem becomes: With fewer organizations and a growing need, where does the responsibility shift? What organizations or individuals are charged with trying to stem the tide of poverty? Which group is responsible for ensuring more access to prenatal care? Who or what organization can truly intervene as a family spirals toward the poverty level?
Maybe, but they’re an easy if not altogether accurate target.
It’s easy to say that lawmakers should do more to help fight poverty in Natrona County. It’s easy to say the city and the county should do more. And while the lawmakers have certainly dropped the ball when it has come to preparing for Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion, poverty and prenatal care aren’t necessarily the purpose of the Legislature.
For a state that brags about being able to take care of its own and do things the right way, there seems to be a needs gap, right in the heart of the state. It affects one of the groups that isn’t able to vote or fend for themselves—children.
As easy and as comforting as it may be to point a finger at the Legislature, it’s also wrong. The solution to the problem must start at a grass-roots level. It must start in churches. It must start with nonprofit organizations. And, most importantly, it must start to address some of the root causes, which include items like affordable housing, educational opportunities and access to medical care. It seems like a community coalition to look at some of these items, including the growing poverty gap, is needed.
Kids Count has to be more than an organization name, more than a survey and more than a slogan.