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Children's Well-being on the South Plains

Facts and Ideas for Involvement
Children's Well-Being on the South Plains Written by Carol A. Johnston, Master’s degree Candidate, HDFS, with photos by Sothy Eng, Ph.D. candidate, HDFS, and Terry Vargas.

Introduction

We’ve all heard the adage "our children are our future". If our children are indeed our future, then information about what can be done to help children and youth in our communities is vital. The Department of Human Development and Family Studies, with support from Covenant Presbyterian Church’s Shalom Fund, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, and the Volunteer Center of Lubbock, joined forces to produce a booklet and an accompanying website to display recent data on how children in Lubbock and the surrounding counties are faring. This information showcases the strengths and weaknesses of West Texas communities (defined as Lubbock and surrounding rural counties). Most importantly, information is included on how community members can help. This website gives a brief overview and more information is available online (forthcoming).

Acknowledgements

The information on this website was underwritten principally by the William Grady Montgomery Shalom Fund of Covenant Presbyterian Church, 4600 48th Street, Lubbock, TX 79414, as approved by the Session of the Church. The Shalom Fund's purpose is to serve God's peace and justice, and in doing so fulfill the Christian community's ethical responsibility for the culture in which it is located.

Additional funding has been provided by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies of the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech University.

Betty Anderson; Sharon Bass of Lubbock Volunteer Center; CASA (Court Appointed Child Advocate) of Lubbock; Tiffany Brizendine of CASA Galveston; Carolyn Simpson of Success by Six; and John Steinmetz generously advice and information. Charts in this publication were compiled from data provided by the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Non-profit organizations named in this website are listed with the Volunteer Center of Lubbock. See http://volunteerlubbock.org for more information.


Table of Contents

Background of Children Ethnicity and Race Housing Ownership Economic Security
Health Nutrition and Health Care Health Care Access
Risk Education Child Abuse and Neglect Juvenile Violent Crime and Death Teen Pregnancy and STD's
Conclusion Endnotes

Background of Children

Ethnicity and Race

In order to understand the well being of children in West Texas, an examination of population changes over time is necessary. Unlike the state population, which is increasing, the total population is either holding steady or decreasing across West Texas; however, the Black and Hispanic populations have increased from 2000 to 2006. Meanwhile, the number of people who identify as being White or Other ethnicity (non-Hispanic, non-White, non-Black) has decreased.

Total population in all nine counties has held steady, except for drops in Crosby and Floyd Counties. Nevertheless, White population in six of the nine counties (Crosby, Floyd, Hale, Lamb, Lynn, Terry) has fallen, while minority population has been steady or risen(1).

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Housing Ownership

Generally, West Texas counties and rural communities have a high rate of home ownership. While rural communities typically have a smaller economic base and more limited job opportunities than more populated areas, they benefit from a lower cost of living. However, there are still those that do not enjoy the security that comes with owning their own home. Lubbock County is the only county in West Texas that has a lower home ownership rate than the state average. High rates of ownership can be associated with high stress if homes are in need of repair or require high monthly payments(2).

Habitat for Humanity is a national program with a strong presence in West Texas and there are several other agencies that serve Lubbock and the surrounding area. United Way serves as an umbrella organization for numerous non-profit agencies covering a host of services and programs. My Father's House has served people from as far away as Dallas who need a new beginning and a little help to get back on their feet.

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Economic Security

Economic security is a concern for many Americans. At what point is economic security considered poverty or impoverishment? Since the 1960’s, the US Census has measured poverty by calculating a family or individual’s income against poverty threshold(3). The poverty threshold is a statistic that includes food cost and family size. The poverty threshold for 2005 was $19,971 for a family of four(3). In 2005 the United States reported that 19% of children were living in poverty, while Texas reported 25% of the state’s children living in poverty(6). In Lubbock and the surrounding counties there were 24, 520 children living below the threshold5. In 2006 federal poverty guidelines determined that a family of four with an annual income below $20,000 (associated with a monthly wage of $1667) would be considered poor(4). Children living in poverty experience daily and long-term threats to their well being stemming from instability in many areas of their lives.

The good news is that there are programs in West Texas that do their part to alleviate children's suffering when they are in poverty. However, they need your help! The contact information for several of these programs is listed below.

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Health

In this section data on the state of West Texas children’s health and physical well-being are presented. Children’s eligibility and participation in nutrition programs and health insurance programs are shown. In 2004, Texas had a food insecurity and hunger rate that exceeded that of the national average. Additionally, Texas had the highest average of food insecurity across the United States. A variety of negative outcomes result from hunger and food insecurity of this magnitude. Students who are hungry have lower test scores, miss school consistently, and experience overall poor health(1).

Nutrition and Health Care

Children living in economically disadvantaged homes are eligible to receive food stamps, WIC, and the national school lunch program. Children are eligible for reduced-price lunch and breakfast and for WIC if their families earn less than 185% of the poverty threshold. To qualify for free lunch and breakfast and for food stamps, the family’s income must be less than 130% of the poverty threshold. Statewide, 18.8% of children received food stamps and 40.2% received WIC (age 0-5)(2). These data from 2004 West Texas are congruent with the state, in that the numbers of children receiving food stamps are increasing by at least 5% each year. However, while the number of children receiving WIC is increasing statewide, it is either steady or decreasing in most west Texas counties(2).

In Lubbock, and at a pronounced rate in the surrounding counties, there is a high use of the federal free lunch at school program. In fact, the trend is increasing in seven out of the nine counties examined(2).

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Health Care Access

In Lubbock and the surrounding counties, the percentage of women who received prenatal care is higher than the state average(3). The birthrate in West Texas has held steady in the most populous counties throughout this decade. Infant mortality rates in West Texas (though lower than the state average) are also increasing with each year(4).

As most everyone has experienced, health care is expensive. Families living in poverty have a hard time providing adequate health care to their children. It is simply unaffordable. Of all states, Texas has had the highest rate of children without health insurance for the past six years(2). Lubbock County, and the surrounding rural counties, unlike state trends, has seen an increase the number of children in CHIP and Medicaid from 2000 to 2004.

Community Health Center of Lubbock is one center that is serving Lubbock County. They provide various educations programs and health services to undeserved areas of Lubbock County(5).

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Risk

This section provides data on the state of West Texas children’s education and risk. Children who do not complete high school and children who perform poorly in school are less likely to be able to secure adequate jobs when they reach adulthood. Poverty and lack of opportunity present risks to children and youth ranging from their ability to perform in school to their risk of pregnancy and even death.

In 2005, Texas young people were more likely than US youth to engage in a variety of high risk behaviors, including driving in a car with someone who has been drinking, operating a car under the influence of alcohol, and engaging in heavy drinking. Furthermore, 52.5% of Texas youth (through age 17) have engaged in sexual intercourse(1).

Education

Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it. - Marian Wright Edelman

Education should not be a privilege but a right. are we, as a community, working to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn? West Texas has a higher percentage of children receiving special education services than the state average. Over 6,000 children in Lubbock county in 2006 received such services. The percentage of students in English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual programs is significantly lower in West Texas than the state as a whole. Lubbock and the surrounding rural counties have a lower dropout rate than the state average(2).

The state of Texas tracks student performance in a variety of ways, including reporting how students fare on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test (TAKS). Statewide, there is a significant drop over time in the number of students who pass the TAKS test from elementary school to high school. West Texas reflects the statewide trend. How can we help our youth continue to do well in school?

Education: a debt due from present to future generations. - George Peabody

The graph portrays the trend in TAKS test scores, indication that early intervention programs are giving children the tools they need to succeed in their elementary years. However, as students prepare to graduate high school, there are fewer adolescents who have passed the TAKS test. We need to come together as a community to increase the number of high school students who pass the TAKS tes(2).

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Child Abuse and Neglect

When adults think back on their childhood they should be flooded with happy memories of friends and family. Sadly, this is not the case for thousands of children on the South Plains. Statewide there was more child abuse cases confirmed in 2005 than any other year for the past 10 years. Sources of this increase could include the fact that Child Protective Services (CPS) has increased staff power to investigate and validate allegations of abuse(3). There were over 5,777 cases of child abuse reported in Lubbock and the surrounding counties in 2005(4). Child abuse can have lasting effects on children. Children who have been abused have reported cognitive disorders, low self-esteem, and chronic health problems(5).

West Texas has programs that help education parents and stand up for the rights of abused and neglected children. Many of these programs focus on preventing child abuse from ever happening in the first place. however, they can't fight child abuse alone--they need your help. Below are some agencies that can use you.

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Juvenile Violent Crime and Death

Many people would consider childhood to be a time without worries of violence, but current data show that children and youth are not immune from violent crime. Many counties on the South Plains have an alarmingly high crime rate, higher than the Texas state average(6). Furthermore, some of these counties also have a higher rate of child and teen death.

What can be done about this overwhelming problem in our own backyard? These violence rates are a problem for law enforcement, schools, communities, and families. Community members have a large role to play in helping make living in West Texas safer for children and youth.

One small step to increase safety for youth is providing after school programs and a safe place for youth to be. Many youth don't have a mentor to guide them through their teenage years. Below are just a few of the programs that give youth a safe place to hang out after school and a mentor.

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Teen Pregnancy and STDs

The topic of teens and sexuality is controversial. Nevertheless, teens in Lubbock are dealing with high numbers of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In 2005, there were 4,439 sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases reported in Lubbock and the surrounding counties(7). Teen pregnancy is associated with lower educational attainment of the mother and the children, limited employment opportunities, and higher likelihood of poverty(8). The accompanying graph shows the teen pregnancy rate of West Texas counties as compared to the Texas state average. In particular, the rates of total births in the county to teen mothers in Floyd and Terry counties exceed twenty percent.

There are programs that help teenagers navigate the tumultuous years of junior high and high school. Programs listed below vary in the types of aid they provide. Most of them assist young single mothers in a variety of ways. Prevention of teen sexual activity, disease, and pregnancy is another teen risk area that needs intervention at many levels. Accurate information regarding sexual activity is also necessary.

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Conclusion

The information in this publication provides a picture of the state of children in Lubbock and the surrounding rural counties in the middle of the current decade. West Texas children are diverse ethnically and economically. While children in this area have health advantages relative to other Texas children, thy still have many needs in terms of nutrition and health care. By the time our children reach adolescence, they confront grave risks to their future and well-being, particularly in relation to sexual health and crime.

Minimizing these risks is a responsibility that we West Texans share. Citizens can take an active role in shaping the futures of our children and youth. Combined with policies that could help children, youth, and their parents by lessening the risks of poverty and unsafe neighborhoods, individual members of communities can be a powerful force. Working with governmental agencies at local, regional, state, and federal levels, West Texans can work to improve economic, physical, and social well-being for our children and youth. The good news is that many West Texas communities are already highly involved in volunteering, but needs of children and youth persist. Each and every community member has a gift to share. If you don’t know where you can best serve, please cal the Volunteer Center of Lubbock, which will be glad to help you find a good fit. Volunteer Center of Lubbock 806-747-0551.

"I believe the single most important thing we can do in our lifetime is encourage others. There is truly nothing ore rewarding than helping someone else see their true potential. The most powerful piece of education is ENCOURAGEMENT!" - John Steinmetz, Community Volunteer

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Endnotes

Background of Children

  1. http://www.cppp.org/factbook06/county_select.php
  2. http://www.cppp.org/factbook06/texas_profile.php?fipse=99999
  3. http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/povdef.html
  4. The State of Texas Children 2006 (Austin: Center for Public Policy Priorities). http://www.cppp.org/factbook06/
  5. http://www.aecf.org/cgi-bin/cliks.cgi?action=rawdata_results&subset=TX
  6. http://www.aecf.org/kidscount/sld/compare_results.jsp?i=190

Health

  1. http://www.aecf.org/
  2. http://www.cppp.org/factbook06/county_select.php
  3. http://www.aecf.org/
  4. http://www.cppp.org/factbook06/county_select.php
  5. http://www.tachc.org/About/Membership/Member_Directory/CHCL.asp

Risk

  1. Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2005, p.81. http://www.cdc.gov.mmwr/PDF/SS/SS505.pdf
  2. http://www.cppp.org/factbook06/county_select.php
  3. The State of Texas Children 2006 (Austin: Center for Public Policy Priorities). http://www.cppp.org/factbook06
  4. http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Documents/about/Data_Books_and_Annual-Reports/2005/databook/pdf/statistics_FY05.pdf
  5. http://www.preventchildabusetexas.org/pdf/Ten_Reasons_To_Prevent_Child_Abuse.pdf
  6. http://www.aecf.org/cgi-bin/cliks.cgi?action=profile&areatree_expand=TX#jumpto
  7. http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/hivstd/stats/pdf/surv_2005.pdf
  8. The State of Texas Children 2006 (Austin: Center for Public Policy Priorities). http://www.cppp.org/factbook06
  9. http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/famplan/pdf/TeenPreg2002_021505.pdf