By STEVEN NALLEY
Mississippi Kids Count recognized the Starkville School District’s Emerson Family Center as one of its Success Stories at its Light Up the Night dinner Friday in Jackson, giving Emerson a place of honor in the recently released 2013 Mississippi Kids Count Data Book.
Emerson will also receive recognition at the sixth annual Mississippi Kids Count Summit Feb. 22 in Jackson, where Emerson representatives will conduct breakout sessions. SSD Family Centered Programs Director Joan Butler said she and others at Emerson are grateful for the award.
“It’s just a tremendous honor to be recognized as a recipient of the Kids Count Success Story Award, for them to feature us in their 2013 Kids Count Summit and in their data book,” Butler said. “We (use the data book to) look at the status of young children in our state and also in our local community. We also examine it more closely for any gaps where we think services need to be provided and they are not currently being provided. We can gauge how well we are improving and what areas we need to focus on.”
Mississippi Kids Count Coordinator Linda Southward said the organization’s goals are to help policy makers and the public understand the environments that affect children and families, target areas most in need and apply effective solutions. The data book focuses on one topic each year out of a rotating list of four — health, education, safety and economic well-being — and the last of these is the 2013 data book’s focus.
“That is a broad category, so we also look at several areas that influence economic well-being: health, education, housing and employment,” Southward said. “When we look at the data provided by Kids Count on the overall well-being of Mississippi’s children, the results are often less than optimal in the areas of education, health and economic well-being. Despite the numbers, we also know that there are organizations in communities all across this state and many on the state level who are positively impacting the lives of our children and families. Four years ago, Mississippi Kids Count began to highlight these organizations through our Success Story program.”
The 2013 data book shows Mississippi’s child poverty levels are the highest in the U.S., Southward said, reaching 32.4 percent compared to the national average of 22 percent. She said only four counties have lower child poverty rates than the national average — Lamar County at 21.5 percent, Rankin County at 20 percent, Madison County at 17.3 percent and DeSoto County at 15.1 percent — but Oktibbeha County’s rate is below the state average at 30.8 percent.
“Regarding unemployment, 10.7 percent of Mississippians are unemployed, compared to 8.9 percent in the U.S., while Oktibbeha County’s unemployment is at 10.9 percent,” Southward said. “Mississippi’s teenage pregnancy rate is 57.6 percent, compared to 24.3 percent in Oktibbeha County.”
Butler said her chief concerns from the data book include increasing proportions of child poverty, single-parent families and teenage parents. Those statistics are all related, she said, because the mother’s educational level is the greatest influence on a child’s educational level. For this reason, Emerson not only helps children, but also their parents.
“We provide wrap-around services for families,” Butler said. “We have parenting classes, we have resources they can check out (and) child care is provided for different functions. We look at adult basic education and GED (programs). We have foster parent training. The list goes on and on.”
Mississippi may face some challenging statistics, Southward said, but the state is also making improvements in areas such as high school graduation rates. The data book’s findings also illustrate the real value behind success stories like the Emerson Family Center, she said.
“These statistics confirm the importance of promoting quality early care and education programs as well as a two-generation approach to promoting more positive outcomes for children and families,” Southward said. “The Emerson family program of the Starkville School District is an excellent example, on the community level of providing opportunities for families and their children to be successful.”
Each chapter of the 2013 data book has its own Success Story, Southward said, with Emerson highlighted in the Education Chapter, the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation’s Childhood Obesity Project highlighted in the Health Chapter and the Moore Community House in Biloxi featured in the Economic Well-Being Chapter. She said the book also highlights a 2013 Program of Promise, the Mississippi Children’s Museum.
Anne Buffington, Success Stories program coordinator, said Emerson plays an important role in making Starkville and Oktibbeha County good places to live, and Mississippi Kids Count is proud to recognize Emerson’s effort.
“Since 1994, (Emerson has) offered comprehensive multi-generational programming and services to strengthen and support the healthy development and economic futures of families,” Buffington said. “We are excited to share their story with others from across the state.”