Children in poverty

Children up to age 17 in households with incomes below the poverty level*:

Charleston County - 25.7 percent

Dorchester County - 19.1 percent

Berkeley County - 23.4 percent

South Carolina - 27 percent

Source: KIDS Count, Annie E. Casey Foundation

*The federal poverty level depends on family size and composition. In calendar year 2012, a family of two adults and two children fell into the "poverty" category if its annual income fell below $23,283.

Single mother LaToya Jones struggles to make ends meet while caring for her 1-year-old daughter.

"I'm trying to do the best that I can," she said. "I'm barely surviving."

Jones said that she is two months behind on rent and faces eviction from her $400 per month apartment on Calvert Street in North Charleston.

Jones and her daughter are among a growing number of families in South Carolina and the tri-county area living below the poverty level.

The statistics are chilling: More than 25 percent of children in Charleston County live below the federal poverty level, and almost 20 percent are living in areas of concentrated poverty. Also, South Carolina ranks 45th in the nation in child well-being, according to KIDS Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Overall, the number of South Carolina children living in poverty has grown 26 percent from 2008 to 2012, to 288,000, according to KIDS Count.

For the same time period, Dorchester County saw a 36 percent increase in the number of kids living in poverty - 6,221. In Charleston County, the increase was 22 percent, and the number of children affected was 20,887. Berkeley County saw a 12 percent increase to 9,629 kids in poverty, according to KIDS Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Jones' monthly income is a $710 disability payment and $337 in food stamps. She goes hungry to make ends meet, but she makes sure her child, Aniyah Meyers, has enough to eat. Medicaid provides health care, she said.

Jones, 30, said she is a North Charleston High School graduate. "I want to work," she said. "Just having one income is not enough for me."

Jones goes to Parents Anonymous on Tuesday nights. The Family Corps-sponsored support group meets at Cherokee Place United Methodist Church in the southern end of North Charleston.

"It's kind of like a safe place," said Amanda Netsch, Family Corps program and outreach coordinator.

On Tuesday, Netsch and other nonprofit professionals met in Mount Pleasant to discuss the state's and region's growing problem with children living in poverty. According to 2012 federal guidelines, a family of two adults and two children fell in the poverty category if their annual income was below $23,283.

Those who attended the event agreed that there was no easy answer to the problem of childhood poverty, but they are trying to form a better working partnership.

The Children's Trust of South Carolina led the workshop discussion of the problem, which drew about 20 participants.

"The reality is a lot of different things are at play. We're still dealing with a tremendous issue," said Megan Branham, the trust's policy and government liaison.

Branham said the "Community Cafe" was a starting point toward helping connect the dots by identifying the problem and resources available across different groups, including churches, government, schools and nonprofit agencies.

Early child development is key, said Jack Little, executive director of East Cooper Community Outreach. Otherwise, children lag behind from the beginning of school.

"It's not a fair starting point for them," Little said.

Factors that affect the success of poverty programs include the willingness of a recipient to accept help. Some of those in poverty think there is not a way out because it is the only life they have known, workshop experts said.