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Florida had improved on factors that influence childhood success before the pandemic

Before the pandemic, several counties in the greater Tampa Bay region were improving on factors that influence healthy childhood development, according to the newly released Florida Child Well-Being Index.

The report, compiled by the Florida Policy Institute, uses several years of data through 2020, collected during the annual Kids Count survey. It ranks counties based on 16 factors including poverty rates, education, birth weight and the number of uninsured children, said Norín Dollard, director of Florida Kids Count.

“Heading into the pandemic, indicators were improving,” Dollard said. “We were building a foundation. Not to say that we didn't have work to do, but we had been making strides."

The report shows that Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota and Manatee made progress on reducing the number of children living in poverty and in homes with high housing costs. They also reduced the number of teens not in school or working.

Meanwhile, DeSoto County received one of the worst rankings in the state. The County had more high school students graduate on time and lowered the county's number of children in poverty, but increased its housing costs and decreased the number of eighth grade students who are proficient in math.

But, Dollard said, it's important to factor in each county’s access to resources when looking at these rankings.

“Outcomes in communities are not accidental or random,” Dollard said. "Counties with higher rankings tend to be those that are better resourced, where there has been greater investment.”

Dollard said the state needs to invest more in its children to improve.

For the second year in a row, Florida ranked 35th in the United States on factors influencing childhood development, according to a national Kids Count report. The report shows that Florida reduced its number of children in poverty, had more fourth graders proficient in reading and had fewer teen births than in previous years.

But the number of children living with single parents in Florida did not decrease and there are still too many children in the state without health insurance, the report noted.

"We have definitely seen from the pandemic and the support through the stimulus checks, the child tax credit that we really need to preserve and expand the basic household support and ensure nutrition and housing are available," she said.

Floridians also needs better access to affordable quality early learning and childcare, Dollard added. And the state should invest in schools so students can thrive.

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