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The state of our kids in Otter Tail County

By Louis Hoglund louish@eot.com The state of the state's children, and specifically in Otter Tail County, is detailed in an extensive "Kid's Count" report. For the most part in the west central lake country--the kids are alright. Neglect, teen pr...

By Louis Hoglund

louish@eot.com

The state of the state's children, and specifically in Otter Tail County, is detailed in an extensive "Kid's Count" report.

For the most part in the west central lake country--the kids are alright.

Neglect, teen pregnancy, and school drop-out rates have fallen over the past decade, according to the recently released study by the Children Defense Fund.

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In only two of ten key indicators are Otter Tail children under age 18 above the state average. Children living below the poverty line total about 1,619--compared to 2,065 in 1995. But at 12 percent, impoverished children in the county are at 12 percent, compared to 10 percent statewide.

Promoting conversation and discussion about children's' well being is the purpose of the study, said Andi Egbert, a researcher with the CDF who presented data at a meeting of about 20 East Otter Tail County child care and social work professionals June 7, at Lakes Cafe in Perham.

"Every one of us plays a role in giving kids a start, raising them in the community," said Egbert at Perham's Lakes Cafe.

The session was organized by Patricia Nunn, coordinator, Perham Early Childhood/Family Initiative.

The "poverty line" is defined as a family of four, with an income of $20,000. The Children's Defense Fund report is based n 2004 data.

Teen pregnancies were down from 17 in Crow Wing County in 1995, to ten in 2004. The number of students dropping out of school fell from 182 in 1995 to 108 in 2004. Neglect and abuse cases dropped from 186 to 128 in 2004.

The number of youth under age 18 arrested for serious crime was 108 in 1995, down to 97 in 2004--but in terms of percentage this is only 15 percent of Otter Tail County's youth--compared to 21 percent statewide.

With unemployment still above the state average, Otter Tail families are "working harder and harder to meet basic needs...families are spending more in out of pocket expenses to live today," said Egbert.

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Housing is a key indicator of the health of children and families, and in Minnesota 41 percent of the state's families are in unaffordable housing situations--with more than 30 percent of a family's income going toward housing expenses.

At least 7 percent of the state's children are without health insurance. The percentages rise to 8 to 10 percent in the northern half of the state.

"We all have a stake in insuring kids," said Egbert. "The cost of the uninsured is overburdening the system, which is struggling under the weight of more and more children without insurance...and health care costs are driven up for all."

In day care costs, the poorest families spend the highest percentage of their income on child care. Families earning less than $20,000 spend an average of 28 percent of their income on day care.

Looking to the future, children's Defense Fund officials believe there have been a few bright spots for the state's kids--coming from the state legislature.

Nearly $300,000 of previously cut money was reinstated for the Early Kindergarten Readiness program.

Money was also reinstated, in part, for the child care subsidy program by increasing the number of low income families eligible for the program. The waiting list to qualify for the program has been as high as 5,000.

The governor and the legislature also approved $2.7 million in additional funding for the Early Childhood Family Education program.

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