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Local News

Annual report keys in on health disparities among children

JOLIET – Both the good and bad can be found in the Illinois Kids Count 2014 report released Thursday.

Statewide and local findings of the report were revealed at a morning news conference at Aunt Martha’s Community Health Center, 1200 Eagle St., Joliet, while other conferences were held statewide.

The 2014 annual report reveals “disturbing health disparities” related to income, race and ethnicity, special health care needs, and other factors.

At the same time, the number of children living in poverty in Will County increased 82 percent between 2006 and 2011, compared to 19 percent statewide.

The child poverty rate in the county rose 7 percent in 2006 to 12 percent in 2012, while over that same time period, the statewide child poverty rate rose from 17 to 21 percent.

“It was very alarming that it increased 82 percent [in Will County] over a period of a couple of years,” said Christine Bzdon, executive director of Child Care Resource and Referral, who spoke at the conference.

At the same time, children’s enrollment in Medicaid and related health programs in Will County increased 120 percent between 2005 and 2012, compared to 47 percent statewide.

“That is really a good thing, but … it just confirms the number of children that are in poverty,” Bzdon said.

Dale Evans, social services and family self-sufficiency coordinator for the Housing Authority of Joliet, said children in low-income families also are less likely to receive comprehensive and preventative dental care, more likely to be overweight and to have oral health problems.

The good news is fewer children statewide and in Will County are going without health insurance thanks to the expansion of the Affordable Healthcare Act and Medicaid programs, Evans said.

Evans said policy steps must be taken to reduce such disparities, including maintaining funding for Medicaid and related programs, ensuring successful implementation of the ACA, supporting families, and improving mental health services.

“We hope this report will spark conversations among communities, service providers, advocates, policymakers on what we’re doing now that works and what more each of us can do,” he said.

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