By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
One in five Illinois children were growing up in poverty during 2011, and in Adams County the rate was nearly one in four, according to findings from the Illinois Kids Count 2013 report that was released Thursday.
The annual grade card on children's well-being gave Illinois lower marks in several areas. Voices for Illinois Children President Gaylord Gieseke said the great recession has stalled progress, eroded gains in programs that help children and undermined some earlier accomplishments.
"We're at a crossroads and we have difficult choices to make," Gieseke said.
Shanna Swearingen, who lives in the Indian Hills housing complex, has tough choices of her own. She receives $200 per month and is facing the challenge of raising three children. Divorced and homeless during the past two years, Swearingen is trying to build a new life for herself and her children.
"If it wasn't for the state programs, I wouldn't know what to do. I would probably end up crying every night, worrying about how to take care of the kids," Swearingen said.
Many of those support systems have seen budget cuts in recent years, forcing cuts in service. Preschool programs have been hit.
Julie Schuckman, director of Early Childhood and Family Center in Quincy, has seen some of the deepest funding cuts. Starting in 2009, the state began cutting pre-kindergarten funds for local classes. Voices for Illinois Children indicates that Adams County has seen pre-K grants cut by 37 percent.
"Our enrollment right now for pre-K is 190. In 2009 we were at 360," Schuckman said.
Even though state funding increases were promised for the Quincy facility for the current school year, the Quincy School Board did not rely heavily on that forecast. Due to slow payment by the state, the board voted to keep enrollment down to control costs.
"The need keeps increasing and our services keep decreasing, and that's not the way things should be going," Schuckman said.
John Roope, director of Caregiver Connections and director of early childhood mental health services at Chaddock, was encouraged to hear President Barack Obama call for universal early childhood education during Tuesday's State of the Union speech.
"There is nothing you can put money into that gives a better financial return than early education programs. The return is $7 to $11 down the line for every $1 you put into it," Roope said.
Unfortunately, Roope said Illinois has gone in the wrong direction since the financial crisis. At one time the state was "ahead of the whole game nationally," he said.
Education is only one of the Kids Count report.
Karol Ehmen of Chaddock said the local need for substitute care and foster care fell by 65 percent during 2012.
"I think, primarily, a lot of great things are going on, but we need attention in some areas" where more needs to be done, Ehmen said.
Medical assistance is one of those bright spots.
Julie Shepard, Blessing Hospital's administrative coordinator of care coordinations, said 1.7 million Illinois children are enrolled in Medicaid and the All-Kids expansion program. That left only 3.7 percent of Illinois children without some form of health insurance or other coverage in 2011.
"That's the lowest in the Midwest and the fifth-lowest of the 50 states," Shepard said.
Health insurance is important because it "leads to better outcomes," she said. Those with health care plans tend to have family physicians and are less likely to use emergency rooms. Physician visits are less costly than ER visits. In addition, people with family doctors tend to do more preventive care and see doctors while medical problems can be treated more successfully.
Thomas Donovan, associate director of Chaddock Trauma Initiative, is not certain why Adams County had such a high rate of child abuse and neglect between fiscal year 2009 and 2011. The local rate was 16.6 cases per 1,000 children. That was double the state's 8.3 incidents per 1,000 children.
"Quincy and surrounding areas have higher (incidences) of drug-related crimes, which directly impacts the children in the areas we serve," Donovan said.
He urged people who see signs of neglect or abuse to report it to 1-800-25 ABUSE. Reports also are needed when there is a suspicion of meth manufacture or use, Donovan said.
State and local findings:
º Child poverty in Adams County rose from 12 percent in 1999 to 24 percent in 2011. The statewide child poverty rate increased from 14 percent to 20 percent.
º Income for families with children, adjusted for inflation, declined by 14 percent in Adams County, compared with 12 percent statewide between 1999 and 2011.
º Children's enrollment in Medicaid and related programs in Adams County increased by 38 percent between 2005 and 2011, compared with 45 percent statewide.
º Preschool slots in Adams County declined by 37 percent, compared to 12 percent statewide between FY 2009 and FY 2012.
º Low-income student enrollment in Quincy School District was 53 percent in the 2011-12 school year, compared with 49 percent statewide.
º High school graduation rates in school year 2010-11 were 86 percent for Quincy School District, compared with 82 percent statewide.
º Children in substitute care or foster care in Adams County reached its highest level since 1998 during 2011. However, during there was a 65 percent decrease in foster care placements in 2012.
º Child abuse and neglect rose to a rate of 16.6 incidents per 1,000 children from FY09-FY11, compared with the statewide rate of 8.3 incidents.
º Child population fell 9 percent in Adams county from 1990 to 2010, compared to an increase of 6 percent statewide.