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Survey shows Florida improving, declining in child well-being measures

Nearly 1 in 4 children in Florida live in poverty

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Child welfare is a mixed bag for Florida's children. A new Kids Count survey that measures 16 data points shows Florida improving in some measures and declining in others.

It also depends on where you live, as children in St. Johns County were found to have the best access to held care and least abuse in the state. Nassau County ranks No. 3 and Clay is No. 5 on a list of places where kids' well being. At the other end of the scale, the study found children in Putnam County had the second to lowest ranking among the state's 67 counties. Duval County was 43rd on the list.

Poverty and drugs are two reasons for the stagnation in conditions. Nearly 1 in 4 children in Florida live in poverty -- a number that hasn't changed since 2010.

DOCUMENT: 2018 Florida Child Well-Being Index

Noreen Dollard, a researcher with the University of South Florida, said the lack of resources leads to other troubles.

"You know, kids don't develop cognitively as quickly," Dollard said. "It has implications related to domestic violence."

The Kids Count study also found that 3 in 5 fourth-graders can't read well, and that 3 in 4 eighth-graders are not proficient in math.

Advocates said the focus on children has to go beyond just school safety.

"We can't allow the conversation about children to be only about one issue: What's going on in our schools," said Roy Miller, with the Children's Campaign.

The well-being of children has improved five notches over the last 25 years, but 39 states are still doing a better job than Florida.

The National Alliance for Mental Health said a boost in funding for school-based mental health programs following the shooting in Parkland is a step in the right direction.

"But it took a tragedy to make it happen. It shouldn't have to be like this," NAMI executive director Alisa LaPorte said. "Mental health is so intertwined with so many areas of our budget: juvenile justice."

The increasing number of parents dying from opioid overdoses is a major reason more young women are ending up in detention.

"They don't know how to express that grief. So they begin to act out. They lash out," Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center CEO Lawanda Ravoira said.

Despite all the bad news, advocates said the fact that the state moved up five notches is proof it can do better.

The study also found that the 25 percent of Florida children living in poverty are at a greater risk of becoming a victim of violence.