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Child poverty a big problem

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Nearly 13 percent of Utah's children live in poverty, and 26 percent of the state's children live in working poor families. Those figures were released last week by Utah Children's KIDS COUNT project, the state's most detailed accounting of child welfare.

While the 12.7 percent of children living in poverty is one of the lowest in the nation, the 26 percent in working poor families is 3 percentage points higher than the national average.

But what those who work with KIDS COUNT want to emphasize is that regardless of percentages, far too many children are living in poverty. Terry Haven, KIDS COUNT coordinator for Utah, notes that 12.7 percent of Utah's children equates to 92,000 children, which, she says, "is enough people to fill the Delta Center 4 1/2 times."

The areas with the largest percentage — almost double the state average — are in rural Utah, particularly southern Utah. Iron, Garfield, Kane, Piute, Wayne and San Juan counties all have child poverty rates of at least 18 percent.

The Wasatch Front and Northern Utah fare the best, with Box Elder, Tooele, Cache, Rich, Davis, Morgan, Salt Lake, Utah, Wasatch, Summit and Daggett counties all being in the 7 percent to 13 percent range.

Unfortunately, there is a very unwelcome trend of increased domestic violence cases in Utah. That alarms Havens. She isn't sure whether it's due to increased stress on families or that more people are willing to report abuse to their local authorities.

Whatever the reason or reasons, the fact that the number of abused and neglected children increased 598 over 2000, is a somber one.

There have been significant gains in dental care. The percent of untreated tooth decay among 6-to-8-year-olds decreased to 22 percent as opposed to 30 percent in 1996. That probably is due largely to the dental program offered by the state's Children's Health Insurance Program. However, that portion of CHIP has been cut back to help the state Department of Health deal with a $10 million budget cut.

Utah can be proud of the way it ranks nationally in many areas, but it needs to keep trying to reduce the number of children who are on the poverty rolls.