WASHINGTON -- Advocates for children in Columbia and Washington said Wednesday that South Carolina must spend much more money, despite declining revenues, to improve its dismal standing with other states in protecting kids.
Michael Petit, founder of Every Kid Matters, a Washington advocacy group, said South Carolina and other states that cut back on child-protection services realize short-term savings -- but cause increased spending down the road.
"In South Carolina, they are not making large investments in a wide range of children's services," Petit said. "They could significantly increase their child welfare spending, and they would see real results if they did."
Among all states, South Carolina ranks 45th in providing for its children, according to an Every Child Matters report released Wednesday.
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The report rated all 50 states across 10 categories that measure the welfare and care of young people.
South Carolina ranks dead last in the country in funding for foster families and related child-welfare services. Its infant-mortality rate -- 8.2 deaths of infants 1 or younger per 1,000 births -- is the nation's third highest.
In Columbia, dozens of parents and child advocates gathered on the Statehouse steps Wednesday to proclaim April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The activists urged state lawmakers to protect agencies that protect children against pending budget cuts.
"It's a tight budget year, but we don't want them to cut programs that affect kids," said Sue Oliver, executive director of Voices for South Carolina's Children.
'A lot of work to do'
Proposed budget cuts of up to 5 percent for child-support agencies, in spending plans now moving through the General Assembly, would have devastating effects, Oliver said.
Jeff Stensland, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said the new report confirms what child-welfare workers long have known.
"South Carolina has a lot of work to do," Stensland said. "Unfortunately, these rankings are not a big surprise."
Lenora Reese, a spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Social Services, said DSS officials would need more time to review the report before commenting on it.
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a Harvard Medical School pediatrics professor emeritus, said there are too many federal, state and local programs for children spread over too many agencies.
"Poor families have to go from one place to another to another to get what they need," he said. "There are programs going, but they aren't efficient."
Elizabeth Clark, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, said a state's performance in child-support measures often correlates closely with income levels.
South Carolina's per capita income of $28,352 puts it at No. 43 among all states, two places higher than its ranking in the new report on children's welfare.
Stensland noted that South Carolina's best showing in the report is its No. 32 national ranking for the number of uninsured children, about 66,000.
The Legislature last year overrode Gov. Mark Sanford's veto and voted to spend an extra $32 million in order to expand eligibility for the State Children Health Insurance from 150 percent of the federal poverty threshold to 200 percent.
"We've had 4,000 soldiers killed in Iraq as of last week," Stensland said. "Since the start of the Iraq war, we've had 30,000 American children commit suicide, get murdered or die from child abuse. Yet, you haven't heard a word out of Washington."
A new report by Every Child Matters, a Washington advocacy group, places South Carolina toward the bottom in comparing the 50 states on how they take care of children across 10 different categories on a per-capita basis. The group puts South Carolina at No. 45 in its cumulative ranking. A look at how South Carolina compares to its neighbors and to the best (No. 1) and the worst (No. 50) in the country: