The 2023 Kids Count study revealed that increasing rates of childhood obesity, infant and child deaths and low birthweight babies have warranted improvements in the health and well-being of the state’s youngest citizens, including those in The T&D Region.

Many children in The T&D Region also continue to live in poverty and fail to meet state education standards, according to data from the latest Kids Count study.

Considering a broad range of issues affecting children, including health care and education, Kids Count ranked South Carolina 41st in the nation in the well-being of its children.

The study ranks the state’s 46 counties on several indicators of child well-being across four domains: economic well-being, education, health and family and community.

Children’s Trust of South Carolina reported that several critical health indicators have driven the state’s low ranking at 47th in the nation.

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‘We have not connected the dots’

Sarah Knox, senior director of policy and advocacy at Children’s Trust, said the state’s rising rates of infant, child and teen deaths, along with increased rates of maternal and infant mortality, child obesity and low birthweight babies have all been concerning.

“Things are not getting better in South Carolina. One of the things that we’re focusing on over the next year – it could take longer – is expanding home visitation programs in South Carolina,” Knox said, noting that Children’s Trust manages the federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

Only 10% of eligible families receive home visiting services; therefore, Knox said expansion of the program is warranted.

Kids Count

“Home visiting is when a professional, whether it be a nurse, social worker or other type of professional, goes into the home of someone who is pregnant, or who has already had her baby. They provide support to that mom. Maybe it’s prenatal care, or maybe it’s the health of the baby after it’s born,” Knox said.

“When we think about the overall health of children, we think that starts when they’re babies. So we know that when we’re able to have babies born at healthier birthweights and surviving through infancy, that their rate through all of these other bad health indicators also decreases,” she said.

There were 14.5% of babies weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces in Orangeburg County. There 10.5% of babies born with low birthweight in Bamberg County, with both counties above the state average of 10%. There were 8% of babies born with low birthweight in Calhoun County.

health graphic

“When we talk about low birthweight babies, we have to look at the other side of that coin, which is Black maternal health and how Black women are dying giving birth. It does not seem to matter whether those women are poverty level or well-to-do. To me, that what that suggests is the institutional nature of racism in our health care delivery system,” Orangeburg state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter said.

“People scoff at that, but research is documented, and that’s a much bigger problem than what we’re talking about here,” she said.

The perennial issue of poverty was also addressed in the report.

There were 41.9% of children under the age of 18 living in households with incomes below the poverty level in Orangeburg County. There were 34.4% and 26.3% living in that same condition in Bamberg and Calhoun counties, respectively. The state average was 20%.

Cobb-Hunter said the U.S. Congress’ failure to extend a child care tax credit, issued under President Joe Biden during the coronavirus pandemic, was unfortunate and is part of the problem.

Legislators: Study shows need for stronger supports for children, families

“Research has shown that thousands of families were lifted out of poverty as a result of that child tax credit … but from my perspective and what I have and will be spending time working on is the issue of affordable housing and child care,” Cobb-Hunter said.

“I was not successful in getting the General Assembly to appropriate $35 million to Habitat for Humanity. This funding would have allowed Habitat to build houses in each of our 46 counties. When you think about income equality, the quickest way to wealth accumulation is home ownership,” she said, but noted she is not giving up the effort.

“There were a couple of individual Habitats — one in Beaufort and one in Dillon — that received funding. I am glad for that, but my goal was to put money in a pot that would benefit the entire state, and I will try that again next year,” said Cobb-Hunter, who said she will also be working on providing affordable child care.

Children’s conditions improve in region; Kids Count study says state still behind much of U.S.

“We have not in South Carolina connected the dots between affordable child care and employment. A lot of people want to work but can’t afford child care. So I am hopeful that at some point we can encourage companies to look at some kind of private-public partnership, which allows them to provide daycare on site. There are a few companies that are doing this, but I think that’s something that we need to really encourage the private sector to do,” she said.

The legislator continued, “Child care is not solely the responsibility of state government. State government is a partner, but we need the private sector to step up to the plate, think outside of the box and come up with creative ways to provide child care for their work force.”

Knox said Children’s Trust will also be working to address the affordable child-care problem.

“When you think about pulling people out of poverty, a large part of that conversation is making sure that people have jobs that they can go to. Part of that conversation is making sure that they have child care so that they can actually go to those jobs. The Department of Employment and Workforce put out a study at the end of last year that showed that a lack of child care was one of the top 10 barriers to workforce entry. We have a lot of work to do in that space,” she said.

‘There’s no silver bullet’

Orangeburg Sen. Brad Hutto, a member of the state Joint Citizens & Legislative Committee on Children, said while many children will be taken out of poverty as rural South Carolina experiences a period of good economic growth, work must continue to address other issues.

“There’s no silver bullet to fix everything all at once, but obviously improving education, making sure that children have quality health care and then working to address the poverty situation will probably always be our goals. They’re our goals every year,” Hutto said.

He said this year’s state budget, for example, has improved teacher pay as part of a way to tackle the state’s teacher shortage and has also “incentivized all of the school districts in the state to offer free breakfast and lunch.”

“We’ve also got bills pending that will deal with the gun loophole, people buying guns that shouldn’t be able to get guns. That may address some of the issues with the death rate we’ve got from guns. That’s just a very troubling statistic,” Hutto said.

“I know that we’ve increased the penalty for criminals having guns this year to give prosecutors more tools to try and help them make sure that people who have forfeited the right to have a gun will be punished more severely,” he said.

The state ranks 43rd in the nation with the child and teen death rate, which stands at 41 deaths per 100,000. The child death rate (deaths per 100,000 children ages 1 to 14). The child death rate was 38% higher than the state average in Orangeburg County, 94% higher in Bamberg County and 87% higher than the state average in Calhoun County.

Hutto said the General Assembly has already moved on smoking-cessation legislation, particularly as it pertains to children participating in vaping.

“That’s a very troubling number. So we have instituted a process by which if you’re a store selling to minors, you’re going to now lose your ability to sell nicotine products. Right now, they just pay a fine. We passed that law this year,” he said.

The Medical University of South Carolina has also announced a new collaboration with Blackbaud to deploy digital education programs focused on preventive behavioral health for K-12 students. The courses will be activated in approximately 70 schools in Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties, along with those in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

The digital education curricula delivered by Blackbaud will focus on critical issues like mental health, compassion, underage drinking and vaping prevention.

economic well-being graphic

Hutto said the General Assembly also increased the ability for children to receive mental health services in this year’s budget.

“That is yet another challenge. We need more and we need increased funding for mental health counselors in the school system. We’re not going to be able to always blame everything on the pandemic, but the pandemic did set our children back in a number of ways,” he said.

The cumulative percentage of children failing grades 1, 2 or 3 stood at 0.5% in Orangeburg County, a statistic that fell below the state average of 1.4%. The cumulative percentage of children in that category stood at 6% and 2.1% for Bamberg and Calhoun counties, respectively.

The percentages were much higher, however, in the number of children not meeting state education standards.

Get for $1 for 26 weeks

There were 75.7% of third-graders testing below state standards in English/language arts in Orangeburg County. There were 66.2% and 71.7% testing below state standards in English/language arts in Bamberg and Calhoun counties, respectively. The state average was 52%.

There were 90.9% of eighth-graders testing below state standards in math in Orangeburg County, while 75.6% and 76.2% of eighth-graders tested below the state standards in math in Bamberg and Calhoun counties, respectively. The state average was 69.8%.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see those scores getting much better in the near future without resources to bring in quality teachers, without figuring out how to get parental involvement consistently. It’s not just in the classroom, it’s at home as well,” Cobb-Hunter said.

“I say that because the General Assembly in this past session voted to give public dollars to private schools. I am just amazed at how some people think it’s OK to do that, but not only to give them public dollars, but not to have the same standards and requirements of these private schools that they do of public schools,” she said.

Cobb-Hunter continued, “I’m just saddened by what I see happening educationally in South Carolina. Given the makeup of the educational leadership in this state and the General Assembly, elections have consequences. People need to understand that. I don’t care what the issue is. It is impacted negatively or positively by the people who get elected on Election Day.”

Hutto said, “We’ve really got to stress early childhood education. Getting children on grade level at 4 and 5 years old makes all the difference in the world to making sure that (they’re reading) by the third grade, which is the important marker.

“We have fallen way behind right now. I mean the schools are trying to address this in various ways with, for example, reading coaches, and we’re trying to increase the funding to the schools to allow them to do that.”

Hutto continued, “And again for the third year, we have over $100 million in the budget for construction of rural schools, including either rehabbing or upfitting for the Internet schools that now exist, or building new schools.

“All that money is targeted to rural schools. So our schools in our area will be eligible for some of that funding. We’ve put $100 million every year for three years now, and it’s my hope that we’ll continue to do that.”

He said the General Assembly has also put in over a billion dollars for broadband connectivity throughout the state.

“That’s part of the Biden’s administration’s effort to get broadband into rural South Carolina. Hopefully in the next three years there will be robust broadband connectivity in virtually every home in South Carolina,” he said.

Cobb-Hunter said more studies on the state’s problems are not needed and that the time to act on solutions is now.

“These numbers have not changed drastically over the last decade. … It’s time to stop talking and start acting. We don’t need to study anything. We know what the issues are. What we need is action, and we need that sooner rather than later,” she said.

The 2023 Kids Count report is available at

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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