Mississippi ranks low in the well-being of children of color

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Kate Royals/Mississippi Today

Children in Mississippi face a well-being gap, according to a national report released this week.

Children of color in Mississippi continue to fall behind their white counterparts in key areas while all Mississippi children tend to be worse off when compared nationally, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit based in Baltimore focused on improving the wellbeing of disadvantaged children in the United States, looked at educational, economic, social and health outcomes in its 2017 report titled “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children.”

The report, released Tuesday, looks at 12 critical milestones for success for children and provides an index score of 1,000. The contrast between black and white children was particularly stark with African-American children in Mississippi receiving an index score of 290 and white children hitting a more mid-range score of 596. Nationally, black children received an index score of 369 while white children have a national index of 713.

Heather Hanna, co-director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT, a Starkville-based nonprofit that collects and publishes data, information and other resources on Mississippi children, said the report provides evidence of the types of policies that would promote changes to make sure all children in Mississippi have a chance to develop and thrive equally.

“In a state where we have the largest African American population in the nation, (the difference in index scores) is really a problem,” Hanna said. “What it means is that, as a state, we’re not ensuring all our children are equipped with what they need to be successful.”

The report examines several milestones for success, including whether  babies are born at normal birthweight, whether toddlers are enrolled in school and how well school-age children perform on standardized tests. It also looks at other factors such as high school completion rates, higher education attainment and the economic well-being of families. 

Mississippi Department of Education Communications Specialist Jean Gordon Cook said the agency has not reviewed the report, but provided information about the state’s recent education-related achievements.

While the state’s graduation rates are improving, advocates for children say other policy changes are also needed.

These include Mississippi’s fourth grade reading and math scores improving on the latest Nation’s Report Card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress; and Mississippi’s graduation rate reached an all-time high of 82.3 percent, up from 80.8 percent the previous year. Mississippi is closing in on the national graduation rate of 83.2 percent, the statement said.

Compared to other states, Mississippi children in most racial groups ranked in the bottom 10 of states.

For example, Mississippi ranked at 39 out of the 44 states that reported data for African-American children. Other low scoring states included Nevada, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Ohio and Michigan.

By comparison, Asian and Pacific Islander children in Mississippi received a score of 680, while Latino children scored 425 out of 1,000.

Of the 10 largest Asian subgroups, Asian Indian, Japanese and Filipino children are the most likely to live in families with incomes at or above 200 percent of poverty, the report stated.

The report also included statistics on immigrant children in the U.S., noting that in Mississippi the population of children in immigrant families is at 29,000. Of these children, 49 percent were identified as Latino, 21 percent as White, 18 percent as Asian and Pacific Islander and 3 percent as Black.

According to U.S. census data, 37.7 percent of Mississippi’s population is Black or African-American.

Hanna, of Mississippi KIDS COUNT, said one policy recommendation from the foundation is to make sure that children Ages 0-6 are receiving developmental screenings and follow-up care.

Mississippi KIDS COUNT also has listed in its 2017 Mississippi KIDS COUNT FactBook a list of policy and program recommendations in the areas of education, health, economic well-being, family and community.

Hanna also said that while Mississippi tends to not have as many children in immigrant families as other states, this year was a particularly important time to include this data as debate rages about immigration policies at the national level.

“We have a lot of great systems in Mississippi for catching this, but we need to coordinate them and to shore up any gaps were children fall through the cracks,” Hanna said.