GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Though it fell slightly, Ottawa County remains one of the best counties in the state for children, according to the annual Kids Count in Michigan report.
The report from the Michigan League for Public Policy, which was released Tuesday, put Ottawa County at No. 3, down one spot from last year’s findings. Livingston and Clinton counties retained their spots at No. 1 and 2. Oakland and Washtenaw counties came in at No. 4 and 5.
Ottawa County, the only West Michigan county in the top 10, ranked high in part because of poverty, hunger, teen pregnancy and family investigation rates that were well below the state average. Additionally, third-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math proficiency, high school graduation and college readiness rates were above the average.
WEST MICHIGAN RANKINGS
The report considered 2017 data on economic security, health and safety, family and community, and education for children to determine its rankings.
Here are where other West Michigan counties fell in the list:
12. Barry County
17. Allegan County
19. Kent County
25. Ionia County
40. Mecosta County
44. Kalamazoo County
47. Newaygo County
51. Cass County
52. Branch County
53. Montcalm County
55. Van Buren County
60. St. Joseph County
61. Berrien County
71. Oceana County
77. Calhoun County
78. Muskegon County
Only four counties in the state ranked lower than Muskegon County: Schoolcraft, Alcona, Luce and Lake.
The report listed 82 of Michigan’s 83 counties; it did not include Keweenaw County in the Upper Peninsula, saying there was not enough data available.
A MIX OF BAD AND GOOD
The report found that overall, the number of confirmed abuse and neglect cases statewide increased by 30% between 2012 and 2017. The report also says that African-American children are routinely overrepresented as victims in those cases, and that a disproportionate number of black children are in foster care. The study cites systemic problems in reaching a diverse population.
Teen pregnancies decreased by nearly 31% between 2012 and 2017, but the study also said women of color had a harder time than white women getting prenatal care and that black and Latino babies were more likely than white babies to die before their first birthday.
The good news is that there was a more than 20% decline in the number of kids living in poverty between 2012 and 2017, though more than 416,000 were still affected.
The number of kids who didn’t graduate from high school on time dropped by more than 16.6%, though 1 in 5 still weren’t making it. Additionally, the study found that more than half of third graders weren’t proficient in reading, more than two-thirds of eighth graders weren’t proficient in math and more than half of 3- and 4-year-olds weren’t in preschool. The report also found racial and socioeconomic disparities in education.
The report offered a number of solutions to issues of economic security, including expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to keep more money in working-class homes and making child care more easily accessible.
In the health and safety category, the report said there should be more home visitation programs, that state money for family planning services should be restored, and that health coverage should be expanded to more immigrant children.
As in years past, Kids Count also suggested changing Michigan’s criminal justice system to treat 17-year-olds as minors rather than adults. It says the current system deprives 17-year-old defendants of age-appropriate services.
In terms of education, the study said programs to improve reading need more funding, as do public schools in general.
***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story was based on rankings initially released by the Michigan Municipal League that were incorrectly calculated for two data indicators — less than adequate prenatal care and children in out-of-home care. The above story has been updated to reflect the updated rankings.***