KECI

Child well-being report shows improvements, downfalls for Montana

MISSOULA COUNTY

Child well-being report shows improvements, downfalls for Montana

MISSOULA, Mont. - More U.S. children live in poverty now than before the great recession.

A new report from a child advocacy group called the Annie E. Casey Foundation says 22 percent of American children were living in poverty in 2013, compared with 18 percent in 2008.

Problems are most severe in the South and Southwest. In Mississippi, for example, a third of children live in poverty.

Montana ranked 30th, which is up one spot from last year. State agencies, like the Office of Public Instruction, provided the information for the report. It breaks down the well-being of kids into four categories -- economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

The number of children living in poverty remains steady at 47,000, or 21 percent.

One big concern for those who live in poverty is being able to put food on the table.

At 3 p.m. at the Missoula Food Bank, workers were busy stocking shelves for the evening rush and making lunches for kids. The menu includes trail mix, apple slices, bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, cartons of milk and juice boxes. The brown bag lunches are given three days a week at the Missoula Public Library.

Aaron Brock is the director of the Missoula Food Bank.  He says while those meals are for anyone under the age of 18, the goal is to curb hunger specifically among kids living in poverty.

Open feeding sites are one solution in response to childhood hunger -- just trying to make sure kids who need a nutritious lunch have access to it. Brock says one-third of the people who take part are kids. While there are many factors behind poverty, a healthy and free meal helps.

"Our effort is to make sure every child has the opportunity to grow and learn and be the best they can be, and it's really hard to do that if you're thinking about having an empty stomach," said Brock.

The report says education in Montana got worse. It says 62 percent of kids don't go to preschool. In Montana, preschool is not a part of the public school system.

Jennifer Calder, the outreach and communications director for Montana KIDS COUNT, says the organization is working to get some workforce policies in place to help curb poverty.

"Those low-income working families or even families who are working and living in poverty, (we're looking at) what kind of workforce development and skill development will be meaningful and help them out of poverty," said Calder.

That way people can acquire the skills they need for a higher-paying job and be able to afford childcare or preschool.

For the last three years Montana ranked 50th for health care. This year it moved up to the 47th spot. That's because people have more access to health insurance, and the number of kids who abuse alcohol and drugs has gone down.

The full report is available online at aecf.org.


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