St. Mary does well on child wellness

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Louisiana has taken a step forward in overall rankings for child well-being in an annual report by a social services organization.

But local statistics compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation for its Kids Count report show that in at least one health category, two local parishes have made good strides.

The number of low birth-weight babies has been reduced in Lafourche and St. Mary parishes, from 122 to 115 and 93 to 82, respectively.

Economic indicators of child well-being posted especially well in St. Mary, where the number of children living in poverty fell from 4,400 to 3,670, or 32 percent to 27 percent.

In Lafourche the number of children in poverty rose from 4,520 to 5,260, or from 20 percent to 23 percent.

Terrebonne saw a gain in impoverished children as well, from 7,530 to 7,860, or from 26 to 28 percent.

Low birth weight babies are an indicator of potential infant mortality. Corresponding information on those instances was not immediately available for the Tri-parish area.

Statewide, Louisiana rose from 49th of the 50 states, right behind Mississippi, to 46th. 

Louisiana outperformed the national average on three measures—uninsured children, teens who abuse drugs or alcohol, and children ages three and four who are not enrolled in preschool.

• In 2010/2011, 6 percent of Louisiana teens aged 12-17 abused drugs or alcohol, a rate just below the national average of 7 percent.

• Despite a 7 percent improvement between 2005 and 2010, Louisiana still has one of the nation’s highest rates of low birth weight babies. The national low birth weight rate improved by just 1% in the same time period, falling from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent.

• Louisiana was one of just four states in which the percentage of children who live in high-poverty neighborhoods actually declined between 2000 and 2007-11. Despite the improvement, 17 percent of Louisiana children lived in high-poverty neighborhoods in 2007-11, ranking the state 46th on that measure.

“Building a bright future for Louisiana’s children is critical to our state’s future success,” said Dr. Anthony Recasner, CEO of Agenda for Children, an advocacy organization that collects Louisiana data for the compilation. “The Kids Count Data Book shows that while many of the investments we’ve made in children are paying off, we still have a long way to go if we want Louisiana’s children to have the same opportunities as children in the best-ranked states.”

Louisiana’s children have seen improvements on most of the report’s measures of Education, Health, and Family and Community over the past several years, according to a statement from Agenda For Children.

In addition to health and safety, the Kids Count data marks educational status.

The data, released Monday, shows that the percentage of fourth graders scoring below proficient in reading improved by 4 percent between 2005 and 2011.

On the health and safety end, Louisiana’s child and teen death rate fell by 30 percent between 2005 and 2010. However, all four measures related to children’s economic well-being got worse since 2005 in Louisiana, including the child poverty rate and the percentage of children whose parents lack full-time, year-round employment. At 29 percent, Louisiana’s child poverty rate was higher than the child poverty rates in 47 other states. More than a third (35 percent) of Louisiana children lived in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment in 2011, which was 9 percent higher than 2008 levels.

State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, said the reorganization of Teche Regional Medical Center, which followed a 2005 merger between Province Healthcare and LifePoint hospitals, could be one reason for better outcomes.

He also praised the Teche Action Clinic in Franklin, which has served rural populations and has prenatal programs that help young mothers – along with others – to better care for themselves and their unborn children during pregnancy.

The clinic’s director, Dr. Gary Wiltz, said he is proud of the work his clinic has done.

“We have an obstetrician on staff and try to get women in on the first trimester of their pregnancies, so that they can have the benefit of receiving care earlier and throughout their pregnancies,” Wiltz said.

But he also expressed concern about the future, citing Louisiana’s refusal to take part in the nationwide Medicaid expansion program.

That could serve as a bar, he said, for some women receiving maximum services in the future.

“Unfortunately I think that gain may be lost over the next year because of the situations in Baton Rouge,” he said. “Just last week we had two women who came all the way from Baton Rouge to our clinic in Franklin, 37 weeks pregnant. One had never had any prenatal care.”

Health care