Home's owners took step into greener world

This River Road residence on Johns Island consists of a main house, a home office (left) and a guest wing (right) arranged around a courtyard with a pool.

Robert Behre

To be a child in South Carolina is risky business.

Nearly half of the state's 1 million residents under 18 "lived in some officially measured degree of poverty" last year, according to a report issued Thursday. About half of all children qualified for Medicaid benefits in any given month, and more than one-third received subsidized school meals.

The 35-page report from the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children is meant to provide lawmakers with information they can use to make policy and funding decisions, its authors said.

The report offers no concrete recommendations, only an acknowledgement of current economic challenges and the general admonition that political decisions should strike a balance between the need for budget reductions and the obligations to the state's children.

It also refers to 16 Senate bills the committee has endorsed.

Lawmakers are grappling with a $700 million budget gap and have said that no state program, including services to children, is immune to cuts.

The Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children was reconstituted in 2008 after a long hiatus, but went unfunded until recently. This report is the first since the early 1990s and was about a year in the making, according to Sen. Mike Fair, chairman of the committee.

The bi-partisan joint committee, which consists of six appointed legislators, three appointed citizens and six state agency officials, is the only political body that considers all aspects of child welfare in South Carolina.

It has an annual budget of $250,000, generated from interest earned on uncollected tax refunds, Fair said.

Data cited in the report was collected from numerous federal, state and nonprofit sources.

The joint committee is a consequence of the state's Children's Policy enacted by the General Assembly. Its guidelines encourage community involvement and direct officials to take preventive action.

"The cost of prevention or intervention to resolve children's problems is almost always less expensive than the cost of failing to serve them," the report states.

George Milner, a citizen member of the committee from Summerville with extensive experience in child welfare and foster care issues, said South Carolina's first priority must be the children in the state's care.

He said the committee's first task was to create "a statistical baseline." In the months ahead, committee members will promote specific initiatives and recommend changes to policy and procedure.

"Now the test of the organization will be whether or not we can ... change the slope of the curve going forward," Milner said. "This next year will decide whether the committee is committed to making lives better for youths in South Carolina, or not."

Family Life

In 2009 there were more than 400,000 children in the state living in a single-parent home, the result of divorce, teen pregnancy and increased birthrates among single mothers.

--416,000 children were living in single-parent families in 2009.

--More than 13,000 divorce decrees were filed in 2007, involving 10,400 children.

--29,000 children were born to single mothers in 2007, about 46 percent of all babies born.

--2,300 girls age 12-17 gave birth in 2009.

--From 2003 to 2006, children under 17 accounted for 10 percent of all pregnancies.

--8,300 children received treatment for drug or alcohol addiction in 2009-2010, though the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services estimates that 18,500 children needed such treatment.

--More than 23,000 children in South Carolina will try cigarettes each year, and 6,300 will become daily smokers.

--Child fatalities in 2008 numbered 788; more than 500 were infants under age 1, and the leading causes of death were congenital problems resulting from short gestation and low birth weight.

Education

Mild to serious learning and behavioral problems have caused schools to place thousands of children in special education programs, which in 2007 served approximately 13 percent of all students in grades 1-12.

--102,000 children were placed in special education programs in 2007.

--19,000 received speech and language therapies.

--45,000 were diagnosed with learning disabilities.

--4,000 were diagnosed for emotional disabilities.

--10,000 had mental impairments.

--13,000 were physically disabled.

--Less than 40 percent of high school graduates enter post- secondary schools.

--The state's high school dropout rate is 27 percent.

--High school dropouts will earn $800,000 less than college graduates throughout their lifetime.

--Nationally, dropouts account for 65 percent of adults convicted of crimes and nearly 50 percent of heads of households who live on welfare.

Juvenile Justice

The goals of the Department of Juvenile Justice are "public safety and redirecting delinquent youth to acceptable behavior, good citizenship and positive futures."

--On any given day, about 5,000 juveniles are supervised in community-based programs and 200 are incarcerated long term.

--More than half of incarcerated children were convicted of nonviolent, minor offenses and the majority have a diagnosable mental health condition or learning disability.

--Of the 20,000 cases referred to DJJ last year, only 1,800 involved felonies and violent offenses.

--DJJ institutional beds cost $300 a day compared with community-based alternatives, such as wilderness camp, which cost $100 a day, and "intensive community supervision" programs, which cost $7.40 a day per child. Juvenile arbitration, which diverts cases away from the courts, have good success rates and cost less than $2 a day.

--DJJ has seen its $100 million annual budget cut by nearly 30 percent, it has closed five group homes and a wilderness camp, and reduced or eliminated many community programs.

--"Disturbing schools" is now the most frequent juvenile offense in South Carolina.

Physical Health

Many children in the state go without health insurance, are inadequately immunized against disease and suffer from obesity and chronic illness.

--More than 136,000 children in South Carolina had no health insurance in 2009.

--Approximately 20 percent of the state's children are not getting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended dosage of vaccinations by age 2.

--More than one-third of high school students are obese or overweight.

--25 percent of low-income children, ages 2-5, are obese or overweight.

--Research shows obese teens tend to stay obese, gaining an average of 80 more pounds as they become adults, and leading to chronic health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer.

--Thousands of children suffer from asthma, and 5,680 were hospitalized for it in 2008.

--Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes were diagnosed in about 2,000 children in 2007.

--215 childhood cancer cases were diagnosed in 2007; 181 children were living with AIDS and HIV in 2009.

--At least 13,000 cases of sexually transmitted diseases were treated in 2008-09.

Child Welfare and Protection

According to the law, the state must intervene when parents or legal guardians abuse or neglect their children.

--About 19,000 cases of possible abuse or neglect were referred to the Department of Social Services in 2010, and 6,705 cases were found to be legitimate, affecting more than 12,000 children.

--8,800 children were neglected or threatened by neglect; 2,900 were threatened by physical abuse; 1,500 were injured by physical abuse.

--Victims include young witnesses of siblings being abused.

--About half of abuse victims are 5 years old or younger.

--Financial strain, substance abuse and mental disorders contribute to higher levels of abuse and neglect.

--Children with disabilities are more likely to be abused or neglected.

--Of the 2,000 children who left foster care during 2009-10, more than 1,300 scored below the basic score on the English portion of the PASS test, and more than 1,500 scored below the basic score on the Math section.

--The average length of stay in foster care is now 17 months.

Poverty

Nearly 200,000 children in the state, about 20 percent, are officially recognized as "poor".

--463,000 children in the state live in families considered "low-income," according to government measures.

--1 in 5 children living in poverty have emotional or behavioral problems.

--328,000 public school students received subsidized meals in 2008-2009.

--Nearly half of all children in public schools received assistance to obtain proper nutrition.

--The state Medicaid program, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, ensures that the poor and disabled receive basic health care, but the agency faces a budget shortfall of $228 million.

--Two-thirds of Medicaid recipients are part of working families but do not earn enough to afford insurance.

--The number of children qualifying for Medicaid has increased from 400,000 in August 2007 to about 480,000 in April 2010.

--For every dollar South Carolina spends on Medicaid, the federal government provides $3, amounting to $4.1 billion in 2009-2010.

Children's Mental Health

Untreated mental disorders can create a lifetime of problems, interfering with learning, relationships and livelihoods. Yet, "regular, sustained community and school-based mental health services may reveal circumstances of child abuse or neglect, treatable depression, or other problems that can be successfully resolved at the onset."

--The S.C. Department of Mental Health served more than 30,000 children during 2009. About 25,000 of the 55,000 children who should have received mental health services in South Carolina last year did not.

--An estimated 31,000 children in the state, ages 12-17, had a major depressive episode in the past year.

--DMH collaborates with the departments of Education, Juvenile Justice, Social Services, Health and Environmental Control, and with First Steps on a number of programs and initiatives that address the needs of the mentally ill.

--DMH saw more than 1,500 children age 5 and younger in its Community Mental Health Centers last year and nearly 14,000 students in the public schools.