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Copyright 2002

Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, Inc.
420 N.W. 13th Street
Suite 101
Oklahoma City 73103
Phone: 405-236-KIDS (5437)
Fax: 405-236-KIDX (5439)

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Press Release

August 8, 2002

Contact: Anne Roberts
Executive Director
Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

2002 Oklahoma KIDS COUNT Factbook Focuses on the Effects of Welfare Reform on Children

Have Oklahoma’s children benefited from the federal welfare reform laws of 1996? The answer to this question is the focus of the 2002 Oklahoma KIDS COUNT Factbook, released today by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. The book suggests mixed results for children under welfare reform. Welfare caseloads have dropped and child poverty has decreased overall in the state. However, many families still do not earn enough to pay for their basic needs and child poverty has actually increased in eighteen Oklahoma counties.

The Factbook is being released as Congress debates the reauthorization of welfare reform. This debate includes components of reform like funding for education and training, money for child care and state flexibility in setting policy. The 2002 KIDS COUNT Factbook helps frame the issues in light of the actual experiences of Oklahoma children and families.

"An understanding of how children were impacted by welfare reform is critical," explained Anne Roberts, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. "Congress is making decisions right now regarding welfare reauthorization that will affect the future of many of Oklahoma’s children and their families. When considering this future, we must ensure that the well-being of our state’s children is the top priority for Oklahoma’s welfare policy."

The 2002 Factbook considers the results of national studies on the impact of welfare reform on children and ties them to findings about Oklahoma’s children. Reflecting on the findings in the focus section of the Oklahoma KIDS COUNT Factbook, Ms. Roberts stated, " What is becoming increasingly clear through research is something that we have always known. The well-being of children is powerfully tied to the well-being of their families. It is impossible to sever the links between the two."

Welfare reform produced both positive and negative effects on the families of Oklahoma children. Welfare caseloads have decreased significantly, with many families moving from welfare into paid employment. More than fifty thousand fewer children, and twenty-five thousand fewer of their parents, than in 1996 are receiving welfare cash assistance each month. In 2000, nearly sixty percent of families leaving welfare found work within a year, compared with fifty percent in 1997, the first year of reform.

Despite this progress, the overall picture for children and their families is not wholly promising. Research shows that children do better, not just when their parents are working, but when their family income is higher than it was before the family left welfare. This is not the case for many families in Oklahoma as they leave welfare.

According to the recently published Self-Sufficiency Standard for Oklahoma, depending on the size of a family and where it lives, a wage sufficient to cover basic expenses in Oklahoma starts at $10.08 an hour. After leaving welfare, an Oklahoma head of a household earns an average of $7.79 per hour, far from what could be considered sufficient anywhere in Oklahoma. The overall income for those leaving welfare is significantly lower than for those staying.

This low income translates into a number of problems directly impacting the children of Oklahoma. Nearly fifty percent of families who are on, or who have left welfare, experience food insecurity or hunger. Over forty percent of those families who leave welfare go without health insurance. Nearly half are unable to pay rent. Almost seventy percent are behind on utility bills. Close to fifty percent must go without a phone.

"These findings point to the importance of providing the tools families need to step onto the ladder of opportunity," declared Anne Roberts. "Families want to move out of poverty and into work for the longterm, but this requires providing work supports like increased education and training, access to quality child care, and health insurance. We must be careful that our welfare policies do not to push families into low-paying, dead-end jobs just so we can say that they are working. The future of Oklahoma’s economy depends upon the quality of its workforce."

In addition to the statewide focus on the impacts of welfare reform on children, the 2002 Oklahoma KIDS COUNT Factbook provides an updated, county-by-county report on seven indicators of overall child well-being. Statewide, two of these indicators worsened, and five showed improvement, when compared to comparable data from the mid-1980s.

The rate of confirmed child abuse and/or neglect in Oklahoma has nearly doubled what it was in the mid-1980s, growing from 9.0 children per 1000 to the current rate of 17.8 confirmations per 1000 children. This translates into nearly 16,000 confirmed cases of abuse and/or neglect each year. The proportion of low birthweight babies also grew over the most recent three-year period, with over 3,600 Oklahoma babies being born too small (weighing less than 5 _ pounds) each year.

Statewide, the rate of child death showed the greatest improvement compared to previous data. Currently, 13.3 fewer children die annually than did during the 1980s. 58 of 77 counties showed a decline in the number of babies born to young teens, girls under the age of 17. The proportion of youths arrested for violent crime continues to show a dramatic decrease compared to the record highs of the 1990s. In addition, infant mortality and the number of teens dropping out of high school also showed declines.

The 2002 Oklahoma KIDS COUNT Factbook includes county-by-county data on indicators related to children and welfare reform as well as county information on each of the seven indicators. The Factbook is designed for use as a planning tool at both the county and state levels. The Oklahoma KIDS COUNT Partnership is a project of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. For more information, or to learn what you can do help, call 405/236-KIDS.