North Carolina ranks 34th in the nation for overall child well-being, according to the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book. However, Orange County may be just a little bit ahead of the state all together signs of better times approaching.
“Orange County historically has done a little better on a lot of the indicators than [the rest of] the state, partly because we have a lot more programs than some of the low-wealth counties,” says Nancy Coston, the director of Orange County Department of Social Services. “We also are lucky that we live in a community that is very committed to our families.”
The KIDS COUNT Data Book is a product of the Annie E. Casey Foundation that examines 16 measures of child well-being in four categories: economic well-being, education, health, family and community.
North Carolina was one of the worst ranked states for economic well-being at 38 and performed only slightly better for family and community at 36.
The Tar Heel State was ranked at 32 in the health category and received its highest marks for education at 28.
In terms of what needs improvement, Coston says that poverty’s impact on children is something that will always have a lasting affect.
“That’s one of the things that has been really hard to help families with,” Coston stated, “Especially since around 2008, when the recession affected so many. A lot of our families have not been able to rebound from that. One of the problems is, with lower income families, the economic situation can affect them—it’s much harsher than it is for other families in terms of the impact. And the children feel that—they know that they live in a situation where they cannot have the things that other children have.”
A positive aspect to come of these poverty statistics is that the Orange County government is listening, according to Coston.
“Orange County Commissioners recently have started wanting to have additional conversations about our families living in poverty, and we’ve also seen that in some of the towns where they’re trying to address the housing and other needs of low income families. We know that children need to feel secure in their housing; they need to have no food insecurities, which we know that many of our families experience. So finding ways to make sure that all of that can be mitigated is one of the most important things that we can do here in our community.”
With all of this in mind, is Orange County currently on the rise or the decline?
Coston says she believes that, in terms of economics, the former is happening.
“We are starting to see the availability of jobs picking up, so hopefully, that impact will affect some of our low-income families,” Coston stated.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on employment of the parents, making sure their skills are marketable so that those families can get back in the work force because that is an important step for them and for their children, because we do know that children with working parents tend to do better than children without families who are working. So as the economy improves, hopefully some of that will impact.”
Coston also says there’s another positive trend happening in the form of health indicators that have improved recently in the state with Orange County as one of the leaders.
“I think it will be interesting to see, in the towns and the county, what approaches we can come up with that emphasize ways to help our children who are living in less-than-perfect situations,” Coston stated.