A new report shows progress in health and economic well-being among New Jersey’s 2 million children stems in part from federal safety-net programs.
The 2017 New Jersey Kids Count, a data report compiled by Advocates for Children of New Jersey and released Monday, shows children and families have successfully taken advantage of services such as the state’s Medicaid expansion, income-tax credits and nutrition assistance.
While programs have led to increased rates of insured children, affordable housing and healthy-eating participation, the report showed economic and racial disparities in education, child health and juvenile justice continue.
With changes proposed on the national level, including proposed funding cuts to assistance programs in President Donald Trump’s federal budget released Tuesday, experts say the progress being made is at risk.
“It is clear that federal investments in children are paying off, but as Congress debates on the future of health care ... our voices for children are needed more than ever to make sure we do not lose ground on these tremendous milestones,” Cecilia Zalkind, advocates president and CEO, said in a statement.
One of the biggest achievements the report highlights comes as a product of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul that President Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress want to repeal.
The number of uninsured children under 18 years old was just 3.7 percent in 2015, an all-time low, report experts said. The number of uninsured adults also fell between 2010 and 2015.
Other highlights include increased household median incomes, a 60 percent increase in charter school enrollment, higher overall immunization rates among children at least 2 years old and a decreased percentage of children who tested for elevated blood lead levels in 2015.
There was an increase in the number of children who got assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and in the percentage of eligible children who got school breakfasts from 2010 to 2016.
The report also focused on issues persisting in some categories and populations, the biggest perhaps being juvenile arrests and detentions.
White youth accounted for more than half of juvenile arrests in New Jersey in 2014, followed by black youth at 45 percent. Black youth make up only 15 percent of the state’s total child population.
In 2015, 67 percent of youth in county jails were black, according to report data. Atlantic, Burlington, Essex and Mercer counties had the highest rates of incarcerated black youth, while Cape May, Ocean and Sussex counties led with the highest rates of incarcerated white youths.
Bergen, Cumberland, Middlesex and Passaic counties had the highest rates for incarcerated Hispanic youth in the state, data show.
Other factors highlighted in the report include a decline in the number of licensed child-care centers, lower graduation rates among economically disadvantaged youth and fewer children being tested for lead.
More than 1,900 substance-abuse treatment admissions were made for children 17 and younger who struggled with use of marijuana, alcohol, heroin and other addictive substances. Experts at the state level have made addiction treatment a primary focus in response to drug overdose rates in recent years.
“As New Jersey elects a new governor and legislature this fall, it’s important to remember the faces behind the data and recognize the incredible opportunity government leadership has in making real change for children,” Zalkind said.