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State sees some progress in child well-being

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RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina now ranks 38th in the nation on key indicators of child well-being, including family income, health and education, a new report says.

Despite a slight improvement from last year’s ranking as 39th in the annual Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, there is room for significant improvement, says Action for Children North Carolina, a Raleigh-based advocacy group.

“North Carolina’s change in rank is driven more by the performance of other states than by significant changes in the numbers for North Carolina’s children,” the group’s president and CEO, Barbara Bradley, says in a statement.

Improvements in infant well-being have “stalled,” Bradley says, with the share of babies born with low birth-weight hovering at 9 percent. Infant mortality climbed slightly to 8.8 per 1,000 live births.

The lives of older children in North Carolina seem to have improved slightly, says the report, which notes a 27 percent drop since 2000 in the number of children ages 16 to 19 who are not in school and are not working.

There has been no improvement, however, in the security of parents’ jobs, the report says, and one in three children in the state is dependent on parents who lack secure employment.

Last year, the number of children the state detained or locked up on criminal charges was 82 per 100,000 ages 10 to 15, slightly less than the national average of 125 per 100,000.

“North Carolina remains one of only three states to automatically try and sentence children aged 16 and 17 as adults for any crime and thus these figures present only part of the picture,” Bradley says.

“What’s important to realize is that in 2004, in North Carolina, more 16- and 17-year olds had contact with the adult system than the entire population in the juvenile system,” she says.

More than 25,000 delinquent complaints were filed in North Carolina juvenile courts in 2004, the report says, while 32,926 offenders ages 16 and 17 were processed in the adult system.

The vast majority of these cases were minor offenses.

Research indicates that trying youth as adults puts them at a higher risk of abuse and suicide, and increases the likelihood they will commit further crimes, Action for Children says.

To lower this risk, the group recommends more funding and resources be allocated to Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils, which now house 1 percent of youth convicted as juvenile delinquents, in order to expand these programs to 16- and 17-year olds.

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