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Jessica OrbonAug 21, 2018, 10:06 pmAug 22, 2018, 2:53 pm

Report shows that poverty impacts education, health of children

Child advocacy group hopes to spur change by connecting income to quality of life

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NEWARK — In an ideal world, all children would have the same access to food, care, and education, regardless of where they live. Unfortunately, the state of New Jersey is still chasing that dream.

Alana Vega is the Kids Count coordinator for the Advocates for the Children of New Jersey non-profit that has published a report on how kids live and learn for more than 20 years. Over the last several months, Vega has collected data from 2016, which is the newest available to comprise the 2018 New Jersey Kids Count study.

"We look at four different domains: We look at child and family economics, child health, safety, and well-being, and education," Vega said. “It really gives you a breakdown of how finances affect that particular county and those particular children."

Vega says that although there is no overall ranking, out of the state's 21 counties, Morris and Somerset came out on top in all domains. Cumberland County was consistently on the bottom. Although New Jersey is generally a high-earning state, 15 percent of the state's children live in poverty.

"Year after year, we do these reports and we look at the pervasiveness of poverty specifically in certain counties. A county like Cumberland has a high percentage of kids living in poverty and that trickles down into all the other indicators that we look at the impacts their well-being overall," Vega said.

The efforts of the ACNJ are not to just collect data and formulate a report, but to do it in a way that inspires government and community leaders to fight for change.

"We've seen community leaders take the data and run with it. Our school breakfast campaign, a number of school districts looked at their numbers and said, ‘Hey, we're not doing a good enough job and we can improve and make sure that students who qualify for a free or reduced breakfast should be getting it,’" Vega said.

The ACNJ is hosting a Kids Count regional forum to develop solutions and identify areas of concern in the state in October.

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