COLDWATER, MI (WTVB) - The latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book shows Branch County ranks near the bottom of counties in the state and is a prime example of how child well-being is showing worsening trends. Branch County was 71st of 82 counties for overall child well-being with number one being the best ranking. Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, says there’s a clear connection between higher-income communities and better outcomes for kids, but even in more affluent counties, child poverty and the need for food assistance jumped dramatically. Zehnder-Merrell said no area of the state escaped worsening conditions for children when it comes to economic security.
Child poverty in Branch County increased 52 percent over the 2005-to-2011 trend period compared with a statewide jump of 28 percent.
The rate of young children in the county qualifying for food assistance increased 33 percent, compared with a statewide increase of 55 percent. The most disturbing numbers for the county concern the rate of confirmed victims of abuse and neglect, linked to poverty. It increased by 91 percent in the county compared with a statewide increase of 28 percent.
Statewide, the biggest improvements were the decline of kids in foster care and a drop in fourth-graders not proficient in reading from 40 percent to 32 percent of test-takers in the Michigan Educational Assessment Program. Branch County's best ranking is 9th of 81 counties in low-birth-weight babies. Roughly 6 percent of babies in the county were born too small, compared with 8.5 percent statewide. The county's worst or lowest ranking was almost dead last, 81st out of 82 counties in the rate of confirmed victims of maltreatment with 40 victims per 1,000 children compared with 14 victims per 1,000 children statewide.