Children play at James Weldon Johnson Park. | Peter Haden, WJCT News 89.9Children play at James Weldon Johnson Park. | Peter Haden, WJCT News 89.9
Children play at James Weldon Johnson Park. | Peter Haden, WJCT News 89.9

Duval rated low for children’s well-being; St. Johns is best

Published on January 18, 2024 at 2:54 pm

St. Johns County ranks first overall in a statewide study that looks at the share of income that families spend on child care in all 67 counties. Clay County is third and Duval County ranks a low 45th.

The rankings are included in the Florida Policy Institute’s 2023 Florida Child Well-Being Index. Rankings largely mirror an area’s poverty rate.

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Elsewhere in Northeast Florida, Baker County ranks 35th, Nasssau County sixth and Putnam County 65th. (DeSoto County ranks 66th and Hendry County last.)

The index provides counties with an overall rank, measuring performance across 16 indicators in four major categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. The latest survey aims to highlight what it calls “the disproportionate share of income” that families spend on child care, accounting for almost one-quarter of a low-wage family’s earnings in the costliest county. 

Overall, the index shows improvements across the board, with reductions in child poverty and high school students’ use of alcohol and drugs, while graduation rates improved, Kids Count director Norin Dollard told WUSF News.

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“We didn’t do this index to pit counties against one another. Everybody wants to have a good ranking,” Dollard said. “But our point is that the counties take a look at their ranking and look at what they invest in kids and communities and consider if they’re investing enough or looking for opportunities to invest more.”

The Florida Policy Institute calls itself an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

Counties with higher rankings tend to be well-resourced places where families can afford to invest in things like high-quality child care, education and other opportunities for children, the index said.

Counties that rank near the middle tend to have a mixture of resources, such as some larger counties with a combination of big cities and suburban and rural areas, the institute states. Counties with lower rankings tend to be places that have borne the brunt of the state’s disinvestment in public services and where people face historic barriers to economic opportunity, the report said.  

Duval County ranked 45th overall and 48th in economic well-being, with almost 21% of its children living in poverty. Just over 39% of the county’s children live in a single-parent home, and just over 11% live in a high poverty area, the survey said.

In the other counties:

BAKER COUNTY: 22.3% of children in poverty; just over a 2% unemployment rate; just under 31% live in single-parent families.

CLAY COUNTY: just over 12% of children in poverty; 2.6% unemployment rate; 5.4% of teens not in school or not working.

NASSAU COUNTY: 14.3% of children in poverty; 2.5% unemployment; just under 5% of teens are not in school or not working.

PUTNAM COUNTY: Just over 41% of children in poverty; 4.1% unemployment; just over 14.5% of teens not in school or not working.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY: 6.6% of St. Johns County children in poverty; 2.3% unemployment rate; 4% of teens not in school or not working.

The top issue statewide in the index was childhood obesity, along with how few people got outside and became less active during the pandemic, Dollard told WUSF.

“In urban and rural areas, there’s not high-quality, accessible food for a lot of folks,” Dollard said. “They were much more sedentary. I think that we have been historically, so that plays into it.”

Duval County ranked 23rd in overall health ranking, with 38.6% of its first, third and sixth grade children obese or overweight. Putnam County ranked overall near the bottom in the survey, with almost 48.4% of its first, third and sixth grade children obese or overweight.

The higher ranked counties had significantly less obesity. Almost 23% of St. Johns County’s first, third and sixth grade children were seen as obese or overweight. That number was 30.7% in Clay and 28.7 % in Nassau, the study said.

The institute study also looked at other child health issues, indicating that just over 20% of Duval County’s high school teens have used drugs or alcohol in the past 30 days. And just over 10% of Duval County households reported having low-weight babies at birth.

The cost of child care has been an ongoing problem for most of the state.

The index found that households in Pinellas County spent over 23% of their monthly incomes on child care, leading to the worst ranking for affordable options. Duval County averaged just under 18.5%, while Putnam County averaged just under 15%, the study said.

In contrast, households in St. Johns County spent just over 23% of their monthly incomes on child care, while those in Clay County spent 19.3% and households in Nassau County spent just under 18.5%, the institute study said

“Statewide, the fact that there’s this big discrepancy between families that are able to afford child care and quality child care, and those that can’t, is a really big problem,” Dollard said.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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