Nearly a quarter of Onslow County children live in households below the national poverty line.
That was among the statistics presented by Laila Bell, a researcher with the child advocacy group N.C. Child, at the 15th annual State of the Child Breakfast held Friday at the Onslow County Government Center in Jacksonville. Bell described a community where more work needs to be done to help children grow and lead healthy productive lives. She and others who spoke said the status quo is not acceptable.
Bell used five data points in ensuring a healthy child for the foundation of her speech: A strong start; health and wellness; nurturing homes and communities; family economic security; and high quality education.
Bell said the most critical time for child development is from birth to age 8, and what occurs to that child during that period “lays the foundation for the rest of its life.” Bell’s research indicated that life expectancy for a child born in Onslow County today is 78.5 years compared to Orange County where a child has a life expectancy of 81.7.
“Poverty has a lasting and lifelong consequences, shaving nearly a decade off a child’s life expectancy,” Bell said.
The U.S. Census Bureau defines the national poverty line at an annual income of $24,563 for a family of four. A power point slide in Bell’s presentation indicated that 22 percent of Onslow County children reside in households below the national poverty line, with 55 percent living at 200 percent of the same line.
Bell said Onslow County had a higher than state average of child abuse and neglect reports. A Partnership for Children handout mirrored Bell’s finding, stating 3,317 investigated reports equating to a rate of 70.11 per 1,000 children in Onslow County in 2016 compared to a state average of 55.43 per 1,000 children.
Bell applauded educators in Onslow County, saying “you have done a tremendous job in raising the graduation rate of students.” A graph displayed during her statement indicated that 9 out of 10 children in Onslow County graduated high school, showing a steady rise over the past 10 years when only 65 percent of high schoolers received a diploma in 2006.
“Economic opportunity is the key not only to the success of every small child but really to the success of your community and future prosperity,” Bell said.
Onslow County Partnership for Children is nearing its 19th anniversary in June, and its Executive Director Dawn Rochelle said the state of the child in this community is “fair.” The status quo is not an acceptable condition for children living today in Onslow County, she reiterated. That Latin phrase was repeated by speakers with regularity.
Reading from scripted remarks and delivered with passion instilled from more than 30 years of community work in Onslow County, Rochelle gave the event’s 250 attendees a behind-the-scenes peek into her thought processes when addressing an issue.
“My staff and I sit around a table and ask the question, ‘Is the status quo okay’?” Rochelle said.
Rochelle employed this method of problem solving in 2015 after four area adolescents committed suicide within a six-week period. Soon, discussions manifested into a suicide prevention coalition.
“And what has happened with the focus and awareness of what this issue costs families and our community is a joint city and county task force that will move the conversation forward light years,” Rochelle said.
Rochelle implored the assembled to “do something from whatever corner of this community you are in because it affects and impacts all of us. We have shown the impact that we are making on suicide in adolescents. That is the human capital that we know we have to invest in. Children are really our economic future,” Rochelle said.
Closing out the program, Onslow County Director of the Department of Social Services Heidi Baur read a proclamation of child abuse prevention then had elected officials from Onslow County, Jacksonville and officers from Camp Lejeune and New River Air Station come to the podium and affix their signature to the document.
Jacksonville Director of Public Safety Michael Yaneiro spoke last, stating that incidents of child abuse, opioid use and gang activity that he encounters on a daily basis as a law enforcement officer are completely preventable.
“We can prevent all these things that we’re talking about here if we come together,” Yaneiro said.
To find out ways you can help Onslow County partnership for Children call 910-938-0336 or go online to onslowkids.org. To get more information about NC Child and data from other counties in the state log on to ncchild.org.