The state of children and families in Illinois is at a critical stage, requiring attention and action.

There are many local agencies addressing these societal concerns, but the fiscal challenges of the State of Illinois are a great threat to our ability to continue serving one of the most vulnerable populations in Illinois—our children. Increasing poverty, access to healthcare and quality of education will have profound effects on our children today, and a lasting impact on their future.

With the grip of the three-year recession beginning to ease, the fallout of its severity still surrounds us. The empty houses on the foreclosure market are seen throughout every community. Unemployment is falling, but currently stands at 8.2 percent, with approximately 12.5 million people still unemployed. Poverty appears to be growing in every community. The signs of the economic challenges we have been through are all around us, and some of the greatest victims are children who have had to watch from a distance as their world has turned upside down.

Illinois Kids Count

Every year, Voices for Illinois Children publishes a book on the current state of children in Illinois entitled Illinois Kids Count. In this year’s edition, the data suggests that in 2012, children are not faring so well right here in central Illinois.

Throughout this article, I will be referring to the counties of Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford as I report on the well-being of children. Let us begin with a review of how many children reside in each county based on the 2010 census. When you compare the reported number of children in the 2010 census to the 2000 census, a trend is revealed. The number of children living in Peoria County has dropped by 2.6 percent, even as Tazewell County has grown by 1.6 percent, and Woodford County has grown by 5.3 percent. At the same time, the number of children under 18 in the State of Illinois has dropped 3.6 percent in the past 10 years.

Child poverty is a growing concern in Illinois as families struggle to survive in these tumultuous times. In 2010, the poverty rate for children living in two-parent households was 20 percent, but the poverty rate for single-mother households in Illinois was 38 percent, and if the child was under age five, that rate increased to 50 percent. In 2010, 25 percent of Illinois children were living in single-parent households, and another 11 percent were living with grandparents, other relatives, or foster parents.

Here in central Illinois, the news is not much better. In 2010, Peoria County reported that almost 24 percent of all children are living in poverty, an increase of nearly three percent since 2008. Tazewell County reports that 12.9 percent of their children are living in poverty—up 1.6 percent from 2008; and Woodford County reports 9.4 percent of their children are living in poverty—up 1.5 percent from 2008.

Medical Assistance Programs

Another significant statistic signifying the challenges faced by children and families in Illinois is the enrollment in medical assistance programs for children. There are several options for families to insure the health of their children. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are funded jointly by the federal and state governments. Illinois has also expanded medical care through the All Kids program, which is funded exclusively by the State of Illinois.

While the need continues to grow for medical insurance options, the fiscal challenges faced by federal and state governments are eroding these options as eligibility is decreased to save money. These changes will have a dramatic impact on many families as they face the elimination of medical care for their children. From 2005 through 2011, Illinois saw a 44.9 percent increase of families seeking coverage under medical assistance programs throughout the state. Peoria County saw a 28.4-percent increase during the same period, with 24,941 children on one of these programs. Tazewell County saw a 43.8-percent increase, with 13,027 children covered under one of these programs, and in Woodford County, a 24.4-percent increase with 2,146 children covered.

In all, 40,114 children in this Tri-County Area are being covered by one of these programs, and I am concerned about the number of children who will no longer have medical insurance coverage as budgetary decisions are made to save money. What will be the long-term cost for these children who no longer have coverage? What will this do to the cost of healthcare for others?

The State of Education

The last data set I would like to share is the state of education in our communities. While the data is not available for each community in this publication, you can find your local school district’s information through the Illinois State Board of Education’s website at isbe.state.il.us. In the 2010-11 school year, 48 percent of all public school students in Illinois were from low-income families, up from 37 percent in 2000-2001. In FY 2009, only 30 percent of revenue for public elementary- secondary education in Illinois came from state sources—the lowest share among all 50 states. Graduation rates for children in Illinois in 2011 were 83.8 percent, with females outpacing males. When viewed by race, African-Americans don’t fare as well. They are graduating at a rate of 74 percent; Latinos are at 76.8 percent; Whites, 89.1 percent; and Asians, 92.3 percent. We need to address this disparity of graduation rates.

In the 2010-11 school year, Peoria’s District 150 reported that 76.6 percent of enrolled students graduate from its system, and 74.9 percent of its population are low-income. Pekin’s CSD 303 reports that 83.1 percent of its student body graduates, and that its low income population is 38.2 percent. What will happen to these youth that don’t graduate? We know the most likely answer, and it’s not positive. We must continue to invest in the education of our youth and address the issues of poverty facing our districts. The effects are devastating and long-lasting, as they impact the ability of children to be successful in life.

Decisions are difficult to make as we face billions in unpaid bills and unfunded pensions, but we must remember that behind these statistics are children who have done nothing to put Illinois in this position. Each and every child is born innocent and vulnerable. Let’s not leave them behind.iBi