A recent report ranked South Carolina among the country's worst states in the overall well-being of its children, and the latest data reveals Aiken County is no exception.
South Carolina ranks 45th nationally in the overall well-being of its children, according to the latest Kids Count survey, which was released last Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The ranking was based on combined data across four domains: economic well-being, education, health and family and community.
According to the latest data available in the Kids Count Data Center, Aiken County was on par with South Carolina in many of the data indicators the Casey Foundation used to determine the overall well-being of children.
One such indicator, the percentage of children with no parent in the labor force, factored into the economic well-being domain, where the Palmetto State ranked 41st in the latest report.
According to 2012 data, 12.2 percent of Aiken County's children had no parent in the labor force, a mark higher than the state's 9.2 percent.
The data also showed that 27.4 percent of Aiken County children were in poverty in 2012, just higher than the statewide mark of 26.8 percent and the national rate of 23 percent.
Jennifer Hart, community director of the Goodwill branch in Aiken, said she doesn't work with children affected by those numbers, but that “we see that impact on a regular basis.”
The problem, said Hart and several of Aiken's social workers and politicians, is a cycle of generational poverty.
When parents can't afford the means to help their children succeed in the classroom, the children struggle in school and end up in low-income jobs where they will, in turn, be unable to provide for their own children's success, she said.
“We believe that education and training and jobs are key to improving those numbers, improving the lives of those children, and changing that pattern,” said Hart, who helps people overcome barriers to entering the workforce.
“Job training and career development services really help them improve the status of their families,” she said.
The data center shows that, in 2013, 36.2 percent of Aiken County third-graders were testing below state standards in math, compared to 30.2 percent statewide.
Just more than 18 percent of Aiken County third-graders were testing below state standards that year, compared to 17.1 percent of South Carolina third-graders overall.
S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said improving such numbers will go a long way toward bettering the lives of Aiken County's children.
“Education provides the path out of generational poverty,” said Young. “The same holds true for Aiken County and South Carolina, as a whole. Improving the overall educational attainment of our county's citizens is critical to decreasing generational poverty in Aiken County.”
Will Williams, president and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership in Aiken, offered a similar outlook on the importance of education to Aiken County's children.
“Educating our young people, and with an emphasis on reading, is a major area that can be focused on,” Williams said. “This has to be a community focus and not just one of the K-12 system. Mentors and groups working with young people on reading and its importance, along with schools, will help these children get a good education and be prepared for success and work. Education is key to a good job and decreasing poverty.”
King Lawrence, an associate superintendent for the Aiken County Public School District, said the District is taking measures to increase educational attainment and break the poverty cycle.
Moving forward, the half-day 4K program – which primarily caters to children in poverty – will expand to full-day. Reading Recovery, an early intervention program for first-grade students who have trouble reading, will expand from 12 schools to 19 next year, Lawrence said.
Lawrence said the District needs to work closely with parents to foster their children's success.
“Anything that we can do as a school district to intervene with students early, that will help,” he said.
Family and community support of children also factored into the report's ranking.
According to the 2010 census, 35.5 percent of Aiken County children lived in single-parent families, similar to South Carolina's 35.8 percent and the national rate of 35 percent.
Peggy Ford, executive director of Children's Place, a United Way partner agency in Aiken, said children raised in families with multiple nurturing relationships are more likely to have better outcomes.
That support isn't as easy to find in the current culture, Ford said.
“There was a time when it really did take a village to raise a child, and the village was really there. And now we have the slogan about it, but the village is not always there,” said Peggy Ford. “That's because of where we are, across the board, as a culture.”