Delaware ranks 23rd in the nation for child wellbeing.

A new report shows an increase in the child poverty rate in Delaware, giving the state a child wellbeing ranking of 23rd in the nation. 

Delaware’s 2017 Kids Count, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and released Tuesday, revealed 39,000 children lived below the poverty line in 2015. That’s an increase of 4,000 from its 2014 report.

Dan Rich, policy director for Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, said there’s an achievement gap in performance between low-income students versus higher-income children, especially among poor Hispanic and black kids. WEIC is an advisory committee with a statewide mandate to address the needs of schools with high concentrations of low-income kids.

“We know it also relates to graduation rates, which are lower for poor students. And it relates to dropout rates, which are higher for poor students,” Rich said. “As many as half of the kids in the public education system would qualify as low income. This is a serious challenge and growing.”

Adult mentoring is key

It’s common, Rich said, to see a link to youth violence.

“That gets related to high incarceration and recidivism rates,” he said. “Those high incarceration rates impose a cost burden on the state the more you put people away. And that cost burden happens to be much higher for incarcerating a young person than it is for educating them.”

Kids Count director Janice Barlow said adverse situations like childhood poverty “may impact a person doing drugs and riskier sexual behavior with unsafe partners.”

Barlow said one of the most successful solutions to help impoverished children is to have them connect with an adult.

“Whether that’s the parent, a teacher, a clergyman or a parent of one of your friends,” she said. “Having someone really close for a connection, someone that you can call on for that supportive system - that is one of the things that’s been shown time and time again to mitigate any effects of [adverse childhood experiences].”

Kids Count data show 77,000 Delaware children were in a single-parent family in 2015.

Unity is needed

Barlow said Gov. John Carney’s reinstatement of the Family Services Cabinet Council in February has potential to be a change agent.

While the state already offers services for low-income families, Barlow said the FSCC could make a greater impact by uniting the many agencies and programs trying to help poor families.

“Our system itself is a little bit disjointed, because we have different folks feeling responsible for making change,” she said.

The Kids Count director explained there are nonprofits, for-profits and individuals in the private sector all offering services. Some services are duplicated. Yet the organizations aren’t communicating with one another.

Rich acknowledged the problem. He said the organizations that exist aren’t intentionally fragmented, but because they were established at different times.

For that reason, Rich said, he and his colleagues recommended Carney reinstate the FSCC, made up of members of the governor’s cabinet.

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long said the state has a duty to ensure that our children and our families have the necessary tools to be healthy, prosperous and safe.

“The reestablishment of this council will break down silos in state government and allow for a more collaborative and coordinated approach to address some of the most critical issues we face, so that every Delawarean has a fair shot,” Hall-Long said.