Dec. 10, 2002 – Small changes can deliver dramatic results. According to the 2002 Kids Count report released Tuesday by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, the territory's infant mortality rate dropped by 38 percent from 1995 to 2000, with the change attributed largely to the presence of a neonatalogist at Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix.
But that statistic was one of few bright spots in an otherwise grim report that showed increases in child poverty; teen deaths by accident, homicide or suicide; and single-parent families.
For the third year, the foundation partnered with the University of the Virgin Islands and the territory's Education, Health, Human Services and Police Departments to compile data about the islands' youth.
"Kids Count provides vital information," CFVI's president, Dee Baecher-Brown, said. "We do find that children continue to lack the care, support and access to vital skills they need to be successful in life."
Baecher-Brown said the report is intended to raise awareness about the plight of V.I. children and help policy makers determine the biggest areas of need. "It's critical to understand the interrelation between each indicator," she said. "Poverty rates, pregnancy, substandard education — they all influence each other."
According to the report, poverty in the Virgin Islands steadily increased over the most recent five years for which data are available, from 34.6 percent in 1995 to 41.7 percent in 2000. Nationwide, the rate for 2000 was found to be 16.2 percent.
The federal poverty line for a family of four with two children was $17,463 in 2000, according to the report. But with a higher cost of living in the Virgin Islands, using that guideline could underestimate the territory's children living in poverty.
Even families in which both parents work are not exempt from living below the poverty line, Baecher-Brown said.
The overall increase is accounted for by a 7 percent increase on St. Croix, where nearly half of all children, 49.3 percent, live in poverty, the study found. On St. Thomas the child-poverty rate stayed about the same, and on St. John it decreased.
Poverty is linked to single-mother families, which make up one quarter of all households in the territory, the report said. The percentage of families headed by single mothers increased from 44.3 percent in 1997 to 45.7 percent in 2000, which is nearly four times the percentage of single-parent families on the mainland.
Deaths by accident, homicide or suicide reported in 2000 stood at 80.6 per 100,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 19. This rate, while slightly lower than 1997's 82 deaths per 100,000, is 17 percent higher than 1995's rate of 67 per 100,000. The national rate for 2000 is 53 per 100,000 teens.
Education drop-outs declining
Education — or the lack thereof — is the biggest contributor to poverty, Baecher-Brown said. "We believe the key to ending the cycle of poverty is better education," she said. "Better-educated children makes it easier to get a job, and for the Virgin Islands to attract businesses."
The territory's high school dropout rate was 16.9 percent in 2000, down significantly from 22 percent in 1997 but still far above the national average of 10 percent. But at the same time, the figures for youth neither in school nor working swelled from 5.4 percent in 1997 to 12.6 percent in 2000.
"These statistics suggest a significant disenfranchising of Virgin Islands youth, linked with the worsening economic conditions in the territory and the increase in poverty and juvenile crime," the report said.
According to UVI psychology professor Patricia Rhymer Todman, the Education Department's dropout rate is significantly lower than the 16 percent level reported in the 2000 Census. Rhymer Todman, who presented the figures to Tuesday's audience on St. Croix, said Education "is showing lower numbers of dropouts than is being reported in the community." She said the way the department's data are compiled could be responsible for the discrepancy.
Education's statistics show a sharp increase in the number of students dropping out of school in the ninth grade — an average of 189, or about twice the number of students dropping out in 10th grade. The figures could be attributed to poor acclimation to high school from junior high school, Todman said.
While much of the news was negative, some positives peppered the V.I. Kids Count report. In the period from 1995 to 2000 :
– The child death rate decreased by 47.4 percent.
– Teen pregnancies declined by 24.2 percent, in line with a national decrease.
– The number of children under age 6 living with working parents increased by 13.1 percent.
– Reports of child abuse decreased by 22.1 percent.
'Silverbells and Cockleshells' kudos
In addition to releasing the 2002 Kids Count report, the Community Foundation on Tuesday inaugurated what is to be an annual award program recognizing not-for-profit organizations and individuals working to change some of the harrowing statistics in the report. The foundation's Silverbells and Cockleshells Gold and Silver Awards were accompanied by cash grants.
Receiving a Gold Award, $1,000 and a plaque were:
– Parents and Kids Discover St. Croix, of the Whim Museum.
– On Track, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
– Marine Kids Korps, Lindbergh Bay Beach.
Receiving a Silver Award, $500 and a plaque were:
– School of the Visual Arts and Careers, Fort Christian Museum.
– "A Sense of Family," St. Croix Coalition.
– "Teen Parenting," St. Croix Women's Coalition.
Receiving a Bronze Award, $125 and a plaque were:
– CASA of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix.
– Carabana Ensemble Theater Company, St. John.
– Youth Programs, St. Andew's Episcopal Church.
– Joanne Matthews-Saunders, a visual and performing arts specialist.
Six other organizations received commendation certificates:
– Charlotte Amalie High School Band Boosters.
– Junior Firefighters Corps., St. Thomas.
– VI Resource Center for the Disabled Inc., territorywide.
– Generation WWW.Y, John Woodson Junior High School.
– Reformed Church Future Leaders Program, St. Thomas.
– Special Education Fitness for Life Program, CAHS.
CFVI plans to give out Silverbells and Cockleshells Awards annually.
For more information about Kids Count, contact the foundation by calling 774-6031 or e-mailing to CFVI.
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