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Report: Illinois Kids are Counting on Accurate Census

A new report shows Illinois has done well in providing access to Pre-K programs. (@darby/Twenty20)
A new report shows Illinois has done well in providing access to Pre-K programs. (@darby/Twenty20)
June 27, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Illinois is doing better at improving the lives of children than in past years, according to the new 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book.

At the same time, the report warns progress could be undermined by a 2020 Census under-count. The annual snapshot of child well-being says an estimated 150,000 Illinois children live in areas deemed by the census as "hard-to-count."

The KIDS COUNT manager at Voices for Illinois Children, Anna Rowan, says if children are missed, the state could lose out on funding that provides critical supports for a healthy start in life.

"We're talking about Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, Head Start grants, and grants for Title I schools and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program," Rowan says. "These are all vital programs for child well-being. "

Bright spots for Illinois, she notes, include low rates of uninsured children and the expansion of preschool programs. The state ranks 22nd overall, ahead of neighboring Midwestern states Indiana and Missouri, but far behind such top-five states as Minnesota and Iowa.

Rowan is convinced there are areas where Illinois could do better for its kids.

"Where we continue to struggle is in the area of economic security for our families," she explains. "More than 500,000 children in Illinois live in poverty, and almost one in three Illinois children lives in a household with a high housing-cost burden."

Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for policy reform and advocacy, adds the Census needs to fully fund state and local outreach, and broaden the group of people and organizations who can reach hard-to-count areas and encourage participation.

"There is a lot of fear of whether or not the information in the census might be used against families," Speer warns. "So, it's important to make sure that groups like childcare providers, churches, schools and libraries are places where people feel safe to fill out the census form. "

The report notes the under-count of young children has worsened with each census since 1980, and in 2010 had a national under-count of one million children under age five.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL