By COLLEEN P. CLARK
Burlington County is closer to being one of the highest ranked counties in the state when it comes to children’s well-being — three steps closer to be exact.
According to the latest Kids Count report released by the nonprofit Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), Burlington County rose from rank 11 to eight, making it not only the 8th best county in New Jersey but also the highest ranked southern county. It falls behind Hunterton, Morris, Bergen, Somerset, Middlesex, Monmouth and Sussex.
The lowest ranking belongs to Cumberland County, followed by Salem, Atlantic, Cape May and Passaic counties.
ACNJ compares counties on 15 measures for its annual Kids Count rankings, including child poverty, health, safety and education. Kids Count is a national and state‐by‐state statistical effort to track the state of children in the United States.
“This gives us a snapshot of the problem, but in general it is always delayed from when the data is collected, analyzed and sent back to us,” said Holly Cucuzzella, Burlington County’s director of health education.
For example, the report points out that Burlington saw its best improvement on infant mortality, but the statistics are nearly four years old. The rate dropped from seven babies per 1,000 dying before their first birthday in 2006 to five in 2007.
Although it’s not the most up-to-date information, Cucuzzella said it still points them in the right direction.
Along with an improvement on infant mortality, Burlington County also saw a rise in women receiving prenatal care. That rate went from 75 percent in 2006 to 77.5 percent in 2007.
“Any time we see a rise in people getting prenatal care, we’re happy about that,” Cucuzzella said.
The county lost ground on median family income, which dropped from nearly $97,000 to almost $95,000, ranking 7th on this indicator after coming in 6th last year, according to the report. Also, the child poverty rate rose from 6 to 7 percent, but the county’s overall ranking on this indicator actually improved from 6th to 4th because child poverty rose more significantly in other counties.
The Kids Count report also takes a look at education. Students passing eighth-grade tests in Burlington County fell slightly, from 82 percent in the 2008–2009 school year to 80 percent in 2009–2010. However, fourth- and 11th-graders saw a slight increase in the rate at which they pass state tests.
Burlington County’s rise from rank 11 to eight is among the highest improvements out of the 21 New Jersey counties. According to ACNJ, the reason counties move up or down in rankings varies from county to county.
“We do the best with the information we get,” Cucuzzella said. “In New Jersey, it’s really hard to compare county to county. If you try to compare Cape May to Bergen County, they’re two completely different populations. You’re going to have different issues depending on where you are.”
Cucuzzella added that the Board of Chosen Freeholders is supporting the Health Department’s initiative of looking for funding to redo its community health assessments, which would include looking at the Kids Count data but also gathering more fresh data regarding these well-being indicators.
“We encourage county leaders to use Kids Count data to understand the state of children in their county and to target resources to meet children’s most pressing needs,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of ACNJ. “Using data to drive decisions results in better outcomes for children and families.”
In addition to the county profiles, which measure progress over a one‐year period, ACNJ also released “New Jersey Kids Count: The State of Our Counties,” a pocket guide that provides a five‐year comparison of various measures of child well‐being, including poverty, health, education and child protection.
To see a complete list of county rankings and to view individual county profiles and rankings on specific indicators, go to www.acnj.org.