As Illinois’ primary election approaches and budget cuts loom, the recently-released 2012 Illinois Kids Count report is calling on elected officials to address the lack of long-term funding for children, while also pointing out that one in five children in the state lives in poverty.
As Illinois’ primary election approaches and budget cuts loom, the recently-released 2012 Illinois Kids Count
report is calling on elected officials to address the lack of long-term
funding for children, while also pointing out that one in five
children in the state lives in poverty.
The report - a collection of statewide data examining children’s lives in Illinois for the past year - found state funding for pre-kindergarten education and at-risk youth services, among others, was drastically cut last year.
However, the Voices for Illinois Children report did commend Illinois for its substantial expansion of health insurance coverage for children through Medicaid and related programs.
In 2010, less than 5 percent of children lacked health insurance coverage — one of the lowest uninsured rates in the nation, according to the report.
“There are a lot of people that don’t understand the success Illinois has had in early childhood access to health care,” said Kathy Ryg, president of Voices for Illinois Children, an organization of advocates that seeks to educate opinion leaders and policymakers on children and family issues.
“We need to raise the level of awareness of all candidates.”
Ryg said this year’s election is critical, as many people in the state are still feeling the effects of the recession and are in need of state assistance.
There are signs that the economy may be improving, she said, "but research tell us poverty rates don’t respond quickly."
As aforementioned, one in five children in Illinois lives in poverty, and that’s shocking to Clete Winkelmann, president and CEO of the Children's Home in Peoria.
“To think, one in five kids lives in poverty is a really distressing statement to make for our society in 2012,” Winkelmann said, adding that his organization contributed data for the report.
He said he
hopes that state legislators and key decision makers will use the
Illinois Kids Count data to prevent cuts to childcare services.
“While I don’t think there will be any new money, cuts are inevitable,” he said. “Our hope is the data will help them focus on kids and family services and preserve funding to these vital support programs.”
Due to budget cuts and delayed payments to service providers, 11,400 fewer children across the state were able to participate in pre-kindergarten programs from 2009 to 2011, according to the report.
Additional budget cuts kicked in for 2012, and that could mean the elimination of pre-kindergarten services for another 6,700 children, the report states.
Chris Bzdon, executive director of the Joliet-based Child Care Resource and Referral, doesn’t think that’s right.
“Research after research coming out is saying that cities and states that invest more in their children have much higher outcomes later,” she said. “We know things need to be cut. We know Illinois is out of money. We know Illinois can’t put off paying its pension back, but not by cutting services to children.”
Ryg said there’s a “compelling lack of recourse” when it comes to addressing the social well being of children.
About 15 percent of Illinois high schools students seriously considered committing suicide during a 12-month period and 9 percent of students had one or more suicide attempts, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention youth risk behavior survey from 2009.
“Yet community and school-based mental health services have been reduced by 20 percent,” she said.
In Peoria, about 45 child health and human care agencies suffered $9.4 million in cuts over the last two years, said Michael Stephan, executive director the Peoria-based Heart of Illinois United Way.
And in a time of high unemployment, cuts to vital programs that serve the at-risk youth in Peoria and across the state cannot continue, he said.
“Poverty rates are just atrocious,” Stephan said. “Our concern is that there may be another round of cuts.”
Stephan said he understands the state is $9.2 billion in the red, and asking for more money is not realistic.
But, he said, “as a state, we have to stop doing the cuts to the most vulnerable communities.”
Ryg said the public can play a critical role in protecting services.
“The public needs to put their stories in front of candidates to make this data real,” she said.