A slumping economy has contributed to a decrease in the well-being of children across the state, according to a report released Monday by an Iowa public policy group.
Iowa Kids Count is a yearly aggregate of statistics that measures 20 facets of child wellness including child abuse and neglect, the percent of children living in poverty as well as reading and math proficiencies.
Michael Crawford, project director for the Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines that puts out the report, said Iowa Kids Count gathers roughly 120 people in the field of child health and education welfare.
"What indicators would you like to see," they ask them.
Those answers determined which statistics the Child and Family Policy Center gathered.
The report is a microcosm of one released by the Baltimore-based National Kids Count report that compares the well-being of children in all 50 states. Iowa's report narrows the scope slightly, comparing statistics from the state's 99 counties.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Internal Revenue Service, Iowa Workforce Development and Iowa Departments of Human Services, Public Health and Education uses the year 2000 as its baseline. Crawford said the Child and Family Policy Center uses data from such sources because they tend to be more reliable.
While Marshall County fairs better than the state average in some of these areas, it lags slightly behind the state average in others. Crawford said Marshalltown itself is a bit of a floater.
"It has some of those issues that larger cities have, but it is smaller town-ish," he said.
Indeed, Marshall County's child abuse and neglect has increased more than 50 percent, according to the report, a significant number especially considering the state average rose by less than half that over the same period. Nearly 21 percent of children have experienced abuse or neglect.
Fourth grade reading proficiency also fell more rapidly than the state average, falling 3.8 percent while the state as a whole rose 7.7 percent.
However, the report is not all bad news for Marshall County.
Eighth grade math scores are up 11.2 percent, slightly higher than the state average of 8.4 percent.
And while the percent of children living in poverty increased between 2000 and 2011, that percent increased at a smaller rate than the rest of the state. Teen pregnancy is also lower than the state average, down nearly 32 percent from 2000, the report shows.
Rob Stewart, resource development director at Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA), said that MICA staff recognized that problem and addressed it with a teen pregnancy prevention program.
"If we find a need, then of course we will try to address it," he said. "Data like this is used in our agency to determine priorities and where we want to focus three years at a time."
Often, that data is reflective of what agencies like MICA are already seeing on a daily basis, he said.
Crawford said Iowa Kids Count statistics provides state legislators with hard data to back up any policy changes and gives local agencies, such as MICA, something to point to when applying for grants.
In a way, the process is cyclical, Stewart said: A need arises. The statistics reflect it. Agencies like MICA use that data to write grants to address the problem.
But MICA doesn't just use the stats to write grants, he said. It also uses them to educate.
"We will use facts and figures like this to quantify our experience," he said.
Those stats are something to point to in forging partnerships because they illustrate a need that is going unmet, he said.