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Court Costs Can Push Kids Deeper Into Justice System, Report Says

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Fines and fees imposed in juvenile court can drive youth deeper into the system and their families deeper into poverty, a new report says.

Every state imposes monetary penalties or costs on juveniles, a burden that hits families who are already struggling especially hard, both emotionally and financially, according to the report by the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia.

The costs can include fees to attend programs that are alternatives to incarceration or to have a mental health evaluation, charges for record expungement and restitution payments to victims.

When families can’t pay, the consequences may include sending a youth to a juvenile placement rather than an alternative community-based program, keeping a youth on probation longer than they otherwise would be or having their driver’s license revoked.

“This is a glaring example of justice by income,” said Jessica Feierman, associate director at the center and the report’s lead author.

The financial burdens of adult court have drawn increasing attention in recent years, but the juvenile system has gone largely unexamined, prompting the center’s researchers to wonder about the experiences of young people and their families. For the report, they examined state statutes and surveyed families and practitioners in most states.

“We got a resounding answer that young people all across the country are facing court debt. It’s harming them and their families,” Feierman said.

In a companion report, criminologists also zeroed in on how costs or fees affected recidivism in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The study, one of the first to look at the connection, found that financial penalties increased recidivism instead of deterring further offenses.

In addition, the report found a link between court-ordered financial obligations and racial disparities. Youth of color were more likely to still owe money after their cases were over, leading to further charges, longer probation or other punishments.

Feierman said the findings point to one way to curb racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system — by moving away from fines and fees that disproportionately affect some communities.

State experiences

Gary Blume, a partner at Blume & Blume Law in Alabama, said he often sees families struggling with the financial problems the report highlights. One common scenario is that a juvenile on probation is hit with a fee that they can’t pay and has to remain on probation until they can.

During that time, they can be sucked further into the system because of curfew violations or other technical violations — which often comes with a new round of costs.

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“It just creates a vicious cycle,” he said.

The consequences also aren’t uniform, Blume added. While some judges are mindful of the burdens families face, others are less so. And even when judges would like to waive fees or fines, some costs are mandatory.

Feierman said some of the fines and fees are set up as a punishment or a way to right a wrong, such as restitution payments. Others are a funding mechanism, a way to fill gaps in juvenile justice budgets that have been slashed.

All of them can be overwhelming to a family, even in small amounts, said lawyers and advocates across the country. And there are hidden costs, too.

A family may need to find the money for a class that’s an alternative to formal prosecution, but they’ll also need to come up with the money for transportation, said Mae C. Quinn, director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis.

“The cost of just doing business needs to be taken into account as well,” she said.

One fee that differs somewhat from the others are restitution payments that go directly to victims, Feierman said. Helping to make a victim whole may make sense, but even then, states should be aware of how much money juveniles and their families have and whether alternatives such as community service may be more fruitful.

“If a young person doesn’t have the money, it’s not going to help the victim and it’s not going to help the young person get back on track,” she said.

Financial obligations vary

The report looks at eight categories of financial obligations that states use: probation or supervision, informal adjustment or diversion, evaluation and testing, cost of care, court costs and fees, fines, expungement and sealing, and restitution.

All states impose restitution costs of some kind, but they vary in their use of costs across the other categories. Under state law, New York only uses restitution fees; Alaska and Vermont use restitution and cost of care fees. Others though, including Texas, Arkansas, Oregon, Kansas and Michigan, have fees or fines that fall into seven of the categories.

Most states and localities haven’t made any major moves to change their practices, but some examples exist, according to the report. In Alameda County, California, officials put a moratorium on fees and costs after a report showed the harm to families and a minimal financial benefit to the county.  And Washington state lawmakers eliminated a variety of fees, allowed youth to petition the court for relief and gave judges discretion to consider a juvenile’s ability to pay restitution.

“Counties and states across the country should consider a similar approach — eliminating harmful costs, fines, and fees, and ensuring that any orders of restitution are reasonable and effectively balance the victim’s need to be made whole with the financial reality of youth and their families,” the report said.

Matt Conklin, a juvenile justice reform advocate at Kansas Appleseed, said he was struck by how many fines and fees Kansas applies. The group will be encouraging families to tell their stories and sharing the information with legislators to encourage reforms, he said.

“This is the signal for us, the wake-up call that can hopefully inspire us,” he said.

This story has been updated.

OP-ED: Opening Our Eyes to Uncomfortable Truths

John LashAthens, Ga., is a funny town. It’s the home of the University of Georgia, meaning some 35,000 students make their home here for nine months out of the year. A lot of full-time residents are connected to the school as faculty or staff, and many businesses count on the money students spend. The downtown is vibrant with restaurants, stores and nightclubs, and the live music is everywhere.

A 15-minute walk from downtown can take you to several lovely neighborhoods of a type not seen much anymore. The homes are older, closer together, neighbors actually know one another. A lot of homes have decorative gardens. Oak trees line the streets, and the streets have sidewalks. This is the realm of professors, doctors, lawyers, retirees and other folks who have worked hard to create a sense of community with their neighbors.

The same 15-minute walk in a slightly different direction will take you to a poorer part of town. The homes in these neighborhoods are often run down, the residents more likely to be impoverished, and the crime rates higher. Several housing projects are in the middle of these neighborhoods. The residents are mostly black.

In Athens/Clarke County the poverty rate is almost 35 percent, more than double the state average. Among  children the rate is even worse, at almost 43 percent. The state average for kids is a little more than 22 percent. The disparity is striking, particularly when contrasted with either the high culture of the wealthier residents or the party lifestyle of many of the students. You don’t see many black people in either of these scenes.

I was pretty blind to this separation when I first started living here, but working at the conflict center has taken me to parts of the city and introduced me to residents I wouldn’t have otherwise had cause to encounter. Like many people, I was unaware of the larger picture of the community.

Blindness exists in all of us to some extent. Humans create systems of interaction, and whether they are communities, families, workplaces, or some other collection of folks, all systems have facets that are hidden. They are hidden, but they still exert an influence on the big picture.

One blindness I am beginning to be healed of has to do with young people, and in particular their propensity for crime and other forms of stupidity. The beginning of my cure was reading an op ed in the JJIE by Mike Males a few weeks ago. The article pointed me towards a few studies, and lead to a correspondence with Mike about his conclusions.

To summarize: when we take into account the level of poverty, kids don’t commit crimes at a higher rate than adults. Take a few seconds and read the previous sentence again. Now, if kids aren’t as stupid as we’ve been lead to believe, what are the implications?

First, a lot of the interest in brain research might be a red herring, or at least misdirected. As Mike wrote to me in an email, “...whether adolescent crime is seen as an innate, biodevelopmental feature or as one related to social conditions is pivotal in all kinds of public policies.”

Not to discount approaches to rehabilitation that have shown promise (for instance cognitive behavioral therapy, or my favorite, restorative justice) but is it possible that these approaches could work with anyone who is committing crime, and not just juveniles? The differences between those who commit crimes, regardless of age, and those who don’t, are far more striking than the differences between adults and kids.

Is it possible that the real obstacle to conquer here is not crime, which can be seen as symptomatic of social conditions, but poverty itself? I think the answer is yes. Imagine that we were able to drop the poverty rate here in Athens to the state average. It seems probable that we would see a drop in criminal activity across all ages.

Perhaps we can employ both avenues of addressing problematic behavior, but let’s be clear that currently we are only following one path. The larger social and economic context is being ignored by many connected to the criminal justice system, both researchers and practitioners. This is a choice we are making as a society. As Mike writes, “...a policy choice to subject young people to far higher rates of poverty and family abuses than we would accept in middle age, and we have a self-interest in dismissing their offending as just a teenage attitude problem.”

This means that we, as adults, extract some heretofore unacknowledged benefit from the power imbalance we have with young people, and that young people’s concerns, as with those of all disadvantaged groups, are minimized and trivialized.

My eyes are opening, and I invite you to open yours as well. It can be disconcerting at first, but I believe the discomfort will give way to energy and purpose as we begin to address this root cause of crime.

 

OP-ED: The Victim, the Bully and the Outsider

John LashIn prison I could often tell who would be a target for victimization. I developed this ability the old fashioned way, through observation. Predators abound in that world, so opportunities to witness their attacks were common. Whether it was robbery, rape, extortion or some other attempt to dominate those who were on the losing end had often had something in common.

According to the convict code the victims were “weak.” This isn’t surprising, since the code was created by those with an interest in perpetuating such crimes. The truth wasn’t that the victims  were weak though, instead I see now that they were different somehow. They didn’t fit in, didn’t make friends easily, and didn’t elicit much sympathy from bystanders.

The same dynamic is at play in bullying, whether in schools or the workplace, where the number one risk factor for being a victim is, again, being different. When we consider the nature of systems, which to some extent have to be invested in self perpetuation, this isn’t really surprising. Widely divergent groups, from yogic vegans to Rush Limbaugh fans, employ similar tactics to maintain group conformity and distance themselves from outsiders, though obviously these don’t always take the form of violence.

Keep these examples in mind, and reflect that our society is a group as well, and like other groups it works to maintain a status quo. And, again like other groups, some people are more “in” than others. Some people are more likely to be picked on. Consider the criminal justice system, including the portion that applies to juveniles. Blacks are much more likely to be incarcerated than whites, up to six times as likely in recent years. Other groups that come in for rough treatment include homosexuals, the poor, the uneducated and those suffering from mental illness.

Falling into any of these categories, or God help you more than one, increases your chances of being arrested, being convicted, getting a longer sentence (and being less likely to be diverted) and being less likely to be paroled. These same groups are impacted disproportionately by other ills as well, including homelessness and violence.

This kind of structure is so deep as to be almost invisible to the larger society, and largely passes unnoticed as anything other than the way things are. White collar criminals who steal millions often end up doing less time than petty thieves. Homeless users of crack do more time than celebrities snorting cocaine. On and on the imbalance and injustice goes, pointing to deep levels of hypocrisy not only in our criminal justice system, but in our society as a whole.

In bullying prevention work one of the most effective strategies is to engage bystanders. Most bullying behaviors occur in front of others, who may sometimes egg on the bully but more often just stand by and do nothing, relieved perhaps that they are not the victim. Bystanders may in fact blame the victim for being different, and sense somehow that they have brought their situation on themselves.

A little education can change this though. Just pointing out to people that victims don’t deserve what is happening to them, and encouraging bystanders to speak up or go get help can radically lower the incidence of bullying. Can something similar be accomplished in the larger realm of our society, where much of the behavior is unconscious and invisible to the unaffected? I think so, and I encourage you to spread the word.

Delinquent by Reason of Poverty

Jim Crow book coverWith the publication of Michelle Alexander’s provocative book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," our attention has been drawn to the troubling reality that the majority of young African-American men living in our cities are either incarcerated or on probation or parole. As a result of the ill-conceived “War on Drugs,” our communities of color have been decimated, and a vast population has been left unemployable and disenfranchised. Professor Alexander powerfully demonstrates that America’s racial caste system did not end with the outlawing of state-sanctioned segregation but merely reconstituted itself. With the demise of Jim Crow, the criminal justice system now functions as our society’s system of racial control.

Yet, there is an important piece of this picture that has been overlooked. Years before they turn 18, millions of children are caught up in the U.S. juvenile justice system, a principal feeder into the criminal courts. Recent research has revealed that as a result of both institutional and structural causes, the standard of proof in delinquency court is determined in large part by the socioeconomic class of the accused, rather than the nature of the forum. As a result, the state’s burden of proof is lowered for indigent children and heightened for affluent ones. Therefore, in all but the most serious of cases, children from low-income homes do not have to be as “guilty” as those from families of means in order to enter and remain in the system, widening the net of court intervention for the poor.

This concept of “needs-based delinquency” challenges basic presuppositions about the method by which children are adjudicated delinquent. At each stage of the process — from intake through adjudication to disposition and probation — the court gives as much or more weight to the perceived “needs” of the child and her family than to the quality of the evidence against her or the ability of the state to prove its case. The most common points of entry into delinquency court — the child welfare system, public schools, and neighborhood police presence — are structured so that few meaningful distinctions can be made between poor children and those who present a true danger to the community. In addition, typical features of state juvenile codes, including procedures for diversion and the use of bench rather than jury trials, combine to shift the system’s emphasis from an evaluation of the child’s criminal responsibility to an assessment of a family’s social service needs.

This emphasis on families’ needs when adjudicating delinquency has a disproportionate effect on low-income children, resulting in high rates of recidivism and perpetuating negative stereotypes based on class. Longitudinal studies have shown that arresting children and placing them in the juvenile court system increases the likelihood of their continued involvement in the courts both as youth and as adults, particularly when detention is imposed. Detention disrupts education, family cohesion, and the provision of services. It also exacerbates pre-existing behavioral and mental health problems, not to mention that a substantial percentage of confined youth do not have histories of violence and pose minimal risk to public safety.  Further, juvenile court involvement and intervention has been shown to stigmatize youth. Once the label of “juvenile delinquent” is formally imposed, it is readily accepted by both the child and the community; the child is then defined and perceived by others through the lens of this label.

Several promising strategies have been developed for addressing the overrepresentation of low-income children in delinquency court. Few juvenile court systems collect data on the income levels of children and their families as they are processed through the system. Yet, reliable data is critical for accurate analysis of the problem and for development of solutions to reduce income disparities. Modeled on efforts to reduce the overrepresentation of minorities in juvenile court, states could gather income data at critical processing points in the system, such as arrest, intake, appointment of counsel, adjudication, and disposition. An advisory body could then determine where income disparities exist, identify instances of unnecessary juvenile justice system involvement, and monitor implementation of reforms to address the issue.

A further strategy for confronting and reversing needs-based delinquency is for law enforcement agencies and public schools to take steps to avoid indiscriminately directing low-income minor offenders into the juvenile justice system. Between 1985 and 2008, the number of adjudicated cases that resulted in court-ordered probation increased by 67 percent, while those that were resolved through informal means decreased 13 percent. This trend toward more formal processing of delinquency cases flies in the face of evidence that diversion programs can be extraordinarily effective. At a time when states are dramatically reducing the budgets of juvenile justice agencies, fewer court referrals would also help offset cuts.

Mass incarceration is, indeed, a crisis that Americans must confront, but the problem does not originate with the arrest and conviction of young adults, and it does not affect only the African-American community. Instead, it begins with failing schools, a crumbling child welfare system, heavily-policed urban neighborhoods and juvenile courtrooms filled with families of all races and ethnicities who live at or below the poverty level. Before we can place mass incarceration at the forefront of a racial justice movement, we must stop the insidious practice of adjudicating children delinquent by reason of poverty, with the goal of increasing fairness for all Americans.

Republican Debates Light on Questions About Children’s Issues, Report Finds

To date, the Republican presidential candidates have fought their way through 20 debates, collectively fielding 1,037 questions across a broad range of topics. But a new report by Voices for America’s Children shows only a tiny percentage of questions—fewer than 2 percent—focused on child policy issues such as education, child health or child poverty.

“While children represent 24 percent of the population and 100 percent of our future,” Bill Bentley, president and CEO of Voices for America’s Children, said in a press release, “questions about their future constituted less than 2 percent of all questions raised in those debates. America’s more than 74 million children can’t vote, but they should be heard, especially in a time of widespread hardship for families.”

The report notes the candidates themselves were more likely to raise children’s issues in their responses than the moderators were in their questions.

Only 17 questions addressing education, child health, welfare and poverty were asked of the candidates. None were asked about child protection, early childhood and children with disabilities.

National security, foreign policy and defense were the most popular issues, leading to 205 questions or 19.8 percent. Close behind were questions about the candidates’ electability and qualifications, resulting in 187 questions; and jobs, unemployment and the economy accounting for 186 questions.

The report is an update of a study done earlier in the campaign that only covered up to November 2011.

You can read the full report here.

Kansas Cuts Out Food Stamps for Many Children of Illegal Immigrants

A new formula for calculating who receives food stamps in Kansas has left many U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants without aid. The change affects the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal program administered individually by the states.

By law, illegal immigrants are not eligible for food stamps but their U.S.-born children are, according to The Kansas City Star. Previously, Kansas excluded illegal immigrants as members of the household in the formula but adjusted the family’s income proportionately. The new rule doesn’t adjust the income, so a family’s earnings are spread over fewer people in the calculation. This has lead many families to lose their food stamp eligibility.

Only three other states calculate eligibility in this way: Arizona, Utah and Nebraska.

“This is not a time, with this economy, when we should be withdrawing help from struggling families with children,” Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, told The Star. “We have a demonstrated problem of food insecurity in this country and, in Kansas, this policy takes you further away from being able to solve the problem. It exacerbates the problem.”

Benefits for more than 1,000 families were eliminated after the change in policy took effect Oct. 1, 2011, but the state agency in charge of running SNAP, the Department of  Social and Rehabilitation Services, doesn’t know how many families with U.S.-citizen children were affected.

“These food stamps were making a difference for families to be able to provide nutritional food for their children, or food at all,” Elena Morales of El Centro, an anti-poverty agency in Kansas City, Kan., told The Star. “This policy not only hurts these families, it hurts us, too, especially because we’re talking about U.S. citizen children.”

As Economy Sags More Students Receiving Free School Lunches

As families continue to struggle during the economic crisis, record numbers of students are receiving free or low-cost school lunches. Department of Education officials reported that 52 percent of fourth graders are now enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, up from 49 percent in 2009.

Last school year, 21 million students received subsidized school lunches, up 17 percent from 18 million in 2006-2007, The New York Times reports. In that same period 11 states saw increases of 25 percent or more as layoffs severely cut into family incomes. The Agricultural Department reports that all 50 states have seen increases in enrollment.

Students qualify for free lunches if their families have incomes up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $29,055 for a family of four. In a four-member household with income up to $41,348, children qualify for a subsidized lunch priced at 40 cents.

In Rockdale County, Georgia, east of Atlanta, 63 percent of students receive subsidized lunches up from 46 percent in 2006. Officials there blame the economy for the increase.

“We’re seeing people who were never eligible before, never had a need,” Peggy Lawrence, director of school nutrition for Rockdale County Schools, told The Times.

Benjamin Senauer, a University of Minnesota economist who studies the meals program, told The Times, “These are very large increases and a direct reflection of the hardships American families are facing.”

Not all growth in enrollment in the lunch program can be attributed to the economy, however. According to The Times, a new way of qualifying students for the subsidized lunch program, known as direct certification, has also increased enrollment. In 2004, Congress required that all U.S. school districts automatically enroll any child whose family also receives food stamps. In the 2010-2011 school year, 14 million school-age children were in families eligible for food stamps, 2 million more than the 2009-2010 school year.

Photo by Flickr | DOliphant

The Continuing Problem of Child Poverty in the South

If you are a child in the United States living in poverty you probably live in the South. According to U.S. census data from 2009 (the last year data are available) the 10 states with the highest rates of child poverty were all in the South. All 10 states had child poverty rates more than 20 percent. In Mississippi, one out of every three children lives in poverty.

A look at teen birth rates reveals a similar cluster. The South is home to all 13 states with the most teen births.

For those who have watched Southern society for many years, the problem is as much cultural as it is economic.

According to Dr. Harvey Jackson, an expert on Southern history and Eminent Scholar in history at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, the statistics are not surprising.

“There are more children in poverty because there are more adults in poverty,” Jackson said. “This is a region of the country in which adults are poor and yet adults continue to have children even though they are poor.”

The problem is social, he says, especially concerning teen births.

“There are real cultural attitudes [in the South] that have to do with large families and premarital sex,” Jackson said. “And it is less condemned in certain communities in the South, particularly among the poor.

“If you’re going to deal with poverty or violence or any thing that a good Bible Belt place should not tolerate you’re going to be dripping with irony all the way to the publisher,” Jackson said.

Poverty in the South is also a product of years of under-investment in schools, after-school programs and hospitals, according to Tara Manthey, communications director for the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. These are all things that “we know help children and families thrive,” she said.

On top of that, southern states have more single-parent households, Manthey said. “That not only drags down their current income but also their potential income because the parent isn’t able to build assets or build education in the way that a two-parent family could,” she said.

But a solution won’t be easy to come by, Jackson says. “If you want to improve the lot of children you’ve got to improve the lot of adults, which makes the whole thing a whole lot more different.”

“Many Southerners have let poverty go because [they think] you can always count on the federal government to keep people from starving,” Jackson said. But funding to southern states is drying up, he says.

The recently published 2011 Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation says:

The research is clear: Children who grow up in low-income families are less likely to successfully navigate life’s challenges and achieve future success. The younger they are and the longer they are exposed to economic hardship, the higher the risk of failure.

The report goes on to say a two-generation strategy is necessary to reverse the poverty trend. That strategy would “help parents put their families on a path to economic success” and “enhance children’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development from birth.”

KIDS COUNT: Georgia Ranks Near Bottom of States Due to Increased Poverty

For the third year in a row, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Book ranked Georgia 42nd overall. The KIDS COUNT report ranks states by measuring the health and safety of children using a variety of indicators. Georgia ranked in the bottom half of all indicators nationally.

The study found 37 percent of Georgia children lived in a single-parent household in 2009, a 1 percent increase from the year before, ranking Georgia 41st in the nation in this category.

Georgia saw increases in almost every measurement including:

  • Children living in poverty (+2 percent)
  • Children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment (+4 percent)
  • Teens aged 16-19 not in school and not working (+1 percent)
  • Teen deaths from all causes (+2 percent)

Only two measurements improved: The teen birth rate declined across all age groups and the number of teens aged 16 to 19 not in high school, who have not graduated fell by one percent. The infant mortality rate also dropped but only by 0.1 percent.

The economy was the trigger for many of the deteriorating numbers, including the increase in children living in poverty, says Heidi Reese-Anderson, client services coordinator with the Juvenile Justice Fund, an Atlanta-based child advocacy organization.

”The borderline individuals or families with children that were just making it by, having a place to live and feeding their families on a very low income -– that borderline is no longer a borderline,” Reese-Anderson said. As a result many children were suddenly, “homeless, hungry and neglected because their parents couldn’t maintain the little that they were holding on to before.”

According to Reese-Anderson, Georgia’s numbers will likely get worse before they get better, especially as the economy flirts with another recession.

KIDS COUNT: Significant Decline in Children’s Economic Well Being Over Past Decade

There has been a significant decline in economic well being for low-income children and families in the last decade, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book.

Among the findings, the official child poverty rate, a conservative measure of economic hardship according to the report, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009. The increase represents 2.4 million more children now living below the federal poverty line, returning to roughly the same levels as the early 1990’s.

“In 2009, 42 percent of our nation’s children, or 31 million, lived in families with incomes below twice the federal poverty line or $43,512/year for a family of four, a minimum needed for most families to make ends meet,” Laura Speer, associate director for Policy Reform and Data at the Casey Foundation, said in a press release. “The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990’s.”

In the past two decades, since the Casey Foundation started the KIDS COUNT report, significant gains have been recorded in the overall health and safety of children.

Since 2000, five of the ten key indicators of child well being examined by the Foundation improved, three areas worsened and two were not comparable to earlier data, but show a negative trend since 2007, the earliest year comparable data is available.

Areas that showed improvement since 2000:

• Infant mortality rate (-1 percent)
• Child death rate (-14 percent)
• Teen death rate (-7 percent)
• Teen birth rate (-15 percent)
• Teens not in school and not high school graduates (-45 percent)

Areas that worsened since 2000:

• Babies born with low birthweight (+8 percent)
• Child poverty rate (+18 percent)
• Children living in single-parent families (+10 percent)

Areas not comparable to 2000:

• Percentage of teens not in school and not working
• Percentage of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment

The 2011 report also includes two additional indicators: parental unemployment and foreclosure. Last year, 11 percent of children had at least one unemployed parent and 4 percent have been affected by foreclosure since 2007.

Within each indicator, however, individual state performances vary widely.

Nationally, the number of children living in a single-parent household increased by 10 percent since 2000. Only Utah, Oregon and the District of Columbia showed a decrease, while 45 states reported an increase.

Texas, with single-family households at roughly the national average of 34 percent, witnessed a similar trend with a 7 percent increase.

“I don’t think these findings are surprising,” said Mark Levin, director of Right on Crime, a Texas-based think tank that deals in part with juvenile issues, adding that only about 20 percent of incarcerated youth in the state have a father in the household. “The role of government isn’t to force people to get married or stay married, but in our public schools we can look at filling the gap and try to provide the support and guidance they’re [children] not getting at home.”

Mississippi showed improvements in infant mortality and low birth weights, but has consistently ranked 50th throughout the past decade in overall performance. In 2011, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama ranked the lowest in the nation overall.

“[Alabama] has always had a higher poverty rate than the rest of the nation,” said Linda Tilley, executive director of Voices for Alabama’s Children. “We see so many children already behind when they enter kindergarten and the gaps don’t narrow, they widen. Education and particularly early care and education are the key to breaking the generational cycle of poverty.”

“Every child can succeed given the right education and support,” Levin added. “It’s important to note many youths from single family houses go on to be successful."

The complete report, mapping tools, and other resources are available on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s website.