PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — An increasing number of children in Rhode Island are poor and experience homelessness but child well-being has improved in other areas, with the obesity rate hitting a 10-year low and juvenile delinquency down, according to a report released Monday.
Twenty-two percent of children in the state were living in poverty in 2011, up from 19 percent the year before, the survey from the children’s policy organization Kids Count said. The number of children staying at homeless shelters climbed to 1,277 last year, from 1,092 in 2011 — an increase of 17 percent.
Executive Director Elizabeth Burke Bryant called poverty the most important of the dozens of measures her organization tracks in its ‘‘Fact Book’’ because it impacts how children fare in so many other ways.
‘‘It just exacerbates all of the other risk factors for poor outcomes in all the other areas: education, safety and health,’’ she said.
Child poverty was concentrated in four cities: Central Falls, Providence, Woonsocket and Pawtucket. Bryant said the increase in poverty and homelessness reflects the state’s high unemployment rate in recent years — one of the country’s highest — and the impact of the recession.
The report also noted that the income gap between the state’s richest and poorest families is growing at one of the fastest rates in the U.S. Rhode Island’s wealthiest families have an income over seven times higher than that of the poorest ones.
The Kids Count report tracks 68 indicators of child well-being using Census and other data. The data come from various years. Most of the indicators had been tracked before, but some had not.
Despite the increase in poverty, the report found that child well-being improved in a number of areas. The obesity rate hit a 10-year low, with 15.5 percent of children entering kindergarten obese in the 2011-2012 school year, down from more than 20 percent in the 2004-2005 school year.
Immunizations were up. Rhode Island jumped to 13th in the U.S. for children ages 19 months to 35 months being ‘‘fully immunized,’’ up from 23rd. The teen birth rate also improved, down to 22 percent per 1,000 teens in 2010, a new low.
Juvenile delinquency is on a downward trend. There were 38 percent fewer juvenile offenses between 2006 and last year, and the population at the state Department of Children, Youth and Families’ Training School dropped 46 percent during the same period, the report found. Burke credited an increased emphasis on community-based prevention programs for the improvements.
Burke also noted that Rhode Island continues to do well in children’s health coverage, with 94 percent insured.