Some of the struggles of early childhood development in Wilkes County are reflected in data released this week by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The information is in Early Childhood Action Plan County Data Reports, with data on each of the state’s 100 counties. The reports are intended to be a resource to help communities take effective action to support healthy development of children.

The report begins with U.S. Census Bureau information indicating population trends for young children.

The change in percentages of white, African American and  Hispanic or Latino children ages 0-8 from 1990 to 2017 are notable.

For this age group in 1990, 1.8% were Hispanic or Latino, 27.6% were African American and 68.2% were white. In 2017, it was 17.6% Hispanic or Latino, 24.5% African American and 53.1% white.

The most rapid period of growth for Hispanic or Latino children ages 0-8 in Wilkes was from about 1995 to about 2010.

Asian or Pacific Islander children ages 0-8 accounted for 1.8% of that age group in 1990 and 3.8% in 2017.

The population of children of all races ages 0-8 in Wilkes was 6,543 in 1990. It grew steadily until it peaked at 7,808 in 2003-04. Since then, the population of this age group gradually dropped and was 6,451 in 2017.

More than half of North Carolina children ages 0-8 live in 13 urban counties, reflecting continued growth of Mecklenburg, Wake and Guilford counties and nearby counties and little or no growth in counties like Wilkes.

Public school, public health and other officials should be considering the impact of these demographic changes.

According to the report, 24.7% of children under 18 in Wilkes were living in poverty in 2017, compared to 21% statewide.

Among adjoining counties, 16.1% of children under 18 in Alexander were living in poverty in 2017, 22.1% in Caldwell, 16.8% in Watauga, 25.1% in Ashe, 23.1% in Surry, 22% in Yadkin, 16.4% in Iredell and 34.7% in Alleghany. Percentages of anything for Alleghany are easily skewed because of its low population.

The median annual income of families with children under 18 in Wilkes was $47,428 for the period 2013-17. Among adjoining counties, it ranged from lows of $37,805 in Alleghany and $46,649 in Ashe to highs of $71,996 in Iredell and $61,250 in Watauga.

Data comparing Wilkes to the entire state include:

• in 2016, 23% of children ages 0-17 in Wilkes were considered “food insecure” and 20.9% statewide;

• in 2017, 38.5% of children ages 2-4 in Wilkes in families receiving state and federal WIC food benefits were considered overweight or obese and 30.7% statewide;

• in 2017, the number of Wilkes children ages 0-3 who were victims of maltreatment resulted in a rate of 37.4 per 1,000 children. It was 20.1 statewide. The rates per 1,000 for children ages 4-5 were 29 for Wilkes and 14.5 statewide. The Wilkes and state rates per 1,000 for children ages 6-8 were more similar - 19.8 for Wilkes and 13.4 statewide;

• in 2017, rates per 1,000 children ages 0-8 for emergency department visits for injuries were 107.9 in Wilkes and 73.9 statewide.

This data helps explain the consistently high numbers of Wilkes children in foster care. Professionals involved in this field say this chronic problem is largely related to substance abuse.

The report shows Wilkes children generally compare well with their peers statewide in reading comprehension.

In 2017, nearly 54% of Wilkes first-graders and 52% statewide demonstrated reading comprehension on mCLASS Reading 3D Assessments.For the same thing, it was 59% of Wilkes second-graders and nearly 56% statewide. Also in 2017, 43% of Wilkes third-graders and 45% statewide scored proficient on end of grade reading assessments.

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