Cape May County has the highest rates of juvenile arrest and child abuse and neglect in the state, according to the latest data from the New Jersey Kids Count report.
The rankings, released Monday, compare New Jersey counties on 12 measures of child well-being and across four domains: economics, health, safety and well-being, and education.
“From curbing chronic absenteeism to increasing lead testing for young children, community leaders can use the data to recognize areas of concern and target resources to improve the lives of children in their county,” said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which produces the state Kids Count reports.
The report shows South Jersey counties are doing poorly compared to others in the state in the categories of safety and well-being, economics and education. Cape May County placed last in safety and well-being in all three indicators, with 11 percent of the county’s teens not in school and not working, compared to the state average of 6 percent.
The report also shows Cape May County’s juvenile arrest rate is nearly three times higher than the state average.
The southernmost county also placed 17th in child and family economics, with 55 percent of households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
“The good news is that fewer children in Cape May are born with low birth weights and more than half of low-income students start the day with school breakfast. However, Cape May County has the highest percentage of residents struggling to find work, at 9.8 percent,” Zalkind said.
Cumberland County ranked 21st in education and 18th in both child health and safety and well-being.
While the unemployment rate in the state has dropped from 9.3 percent in 2012 to 5 percent in 2016, families continue to struggle with the cost of living, including spending more of their income on rent than the state average.
“About a quarter of Cumberland County children live in families struggling to make ends meet,” Zalkind said.
Cumberland tied for last by having the highest child poverty rate, at 25 percent of its 36,000 children, although it is a decrease from the 2011 rate. The county’s median income is $52,610.
Atlantic County has 22 percent of its 60,100 children living in poverty, up 20 percent from 2011. Atlantic County has a median family income of $58,522.
Cape May and Ocean counties saw drops in their child poverty rates.
Counties are doing a good job of serving low-income children school breakfast, the report shows. Cumberland ranks second and Atlantic County 10th in this category.
Ocean County fared the best among the southern coastal counties, ranking first and second in New Jersey for safety and well-being and child health, but it was 18th in education.
“Ocean County has the lowest percentage of substantiated or established cases of abuse or neglect and ranks second in the rate of juvenile arrests. Still, more than 25,000 Ocean County children live in families struggling to make ends meet,” Zalkind said.