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‘Persistent, unacceptable disparities’ among RI kids detailed in new report

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A new report on how Rhode Island’s children and families are faring after a year of the coronavirus pandemic shows enduring disparities by race and ethnicity, a lack of mental health treatment availability, and a significant drop in the adoption rate.

The findings were contained in the latest annual Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook, which offers a yearly snapshot of how children and families are doing statewide. The advocacy group has been releasing it for more than 25 years.

“We are continuing to show persistent, unacceptable disparities by race and ethnicity across all of the areas that the Factbook covers,” Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of KIDS COUNT, told Target 12.

As one example, she pointed to an audit of 2,253 Rhode Island high school transcripts showing 14% percent of all 9th graders were already off track for college and career readiness. Communities of color fared far worse: for Black 9th graders the same number was 78%, and for Latino 9th graders, it was 76%.

“There is no excuse for the very significant gaps in race and ethnicity that we see in education indicators,” Burke Bryant said.

Mental health treatment availability is another key issue statewide.

As families have gone through enormous stress over the past year because of the pandemic, job loss or isolation from family, Burke Bryant said the state’s ability to offer treatment hasn’t kept up.

“Only about one in five children or youth with a mental health issue receives treatment,” she said. “The needs weren’t being met before the pandemic, and now it’s even greater.”

Then there’s the decrease in the child adoption rate. The R.I. Department of Children, Youth & Families reported 127 children were adopted statewide in 2020 — a 30% decrease from 2019.

“The data suggests some of the interactions that go into getting children and families ready for adoption were much slower during the course of the year,” Burke Bryant said. “We anticipate that the pace will pick up now that there is going to be more in-person interaction.”

But it isn’t all bad news: Burke Bryant said the state’s long-term commitment to getting children covered by health insurance has led to good results in terms of children’s’ health.

“Right now, Rhode Island ranks second best in the nation for the percentage of children covered,” Burke Bryant said, behind only Massachusetts. About 98% of Rhode Island children have insurance.

You can read the full 2021 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook here.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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