A DHS county-by-county analysis of children at risk of being academically unready for school shows quality child care services are in short supply in some of the counties where the needs are the greatest.
“The findings show stronger investments are needed in many counties to increase the availability of quality early education and child care,” said Leslie Blazer, DHS director of child care services. “Offsetting the impact of negative circumstances is critical not only to the state’s economic future, but also to the overall quality of life in Oklahoma.”
Harmon, Tillman, Texas, and Adair counties are the four Oklahoma counties where statistics indicate children under age 6 are at the greatest risk of being academically unprepared for school, according to the report released Monday by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services titled “Oklahoma School Readiness Reach-by-Risk Report 2014.”
The report identified children as being at risk of being unready for school based on a number of factors, including having a Hispanic background, being born to a mother with less than a high school diploma, being the child of migrant parents, living in poverty, being the child of single parents, having a teenage mother, being the victim of abuse or neglect, and being in foster care.
Harmon, Tillman, Texas and Adair counties were listed among the Oklahoma counties least prepared to deal with such challenges based on availability of services like early childhood education programs and child care centers that are highly rated by DHS.
“Across the state, child care providers with two- and three-star ratings, the highest possible, have only enough capacity to serve an estimated 48 percent of young children with working parents, with the largest gap between capacity and demand in high risk counties,” DHS said in a news release issued, along with the report.
The report ranked all 77 counties and found that 38 counties fell into either the high risk or medium-high risk categories, while the remaining counties were listed as either low risk or medium low risk.
Oklahoma County children came in 21st among the counties, placing them in the medium-high risk category, while Tulsa children ranked 39th, placing them in the medium-low risk group.
Greer County ranked as the fifth-riskiest county overall, but it had the highest rate of confirmed abuse and neglect for children under 6 among all of the counties at 8.22 percent. It also had the highest percentage of such children in DHS protective custody (7.93 percent) and the highest rate of births to teenage mothers (22 percent).
The report showed Texas County has the highest percent of children under age 5 who are Hispanic (58.6 percent) and the highest rate of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students who come from homes where little to no English is spoken (57 percent). Texas County also had the highest percentage of mothers who had not achieved a high school diploma (48.2 percent).
Harmon County has the highest percentage of children under age 6 living in poverty (54.9 percent).