Is city failing its youth?

Posted: June 19, 2007

With teen homicides increasing and a growing percentage of youths living in poverty, according to a report released today, Mayor Street acknowledged that "children are suffering" in Philadelphia.

For the eighth and final time, Street unveiled an annual "Report Card" that painted a mixed picture of the well-being of children in Philadelphia and the city's efforts to help them.

Teen pregnancies continued to decline and fewer children had exposure to dangerous levels of lead, the 73-page report said.

But 179 young people ages 7 to 24 were murdered last year - an increase of 20 percent from 2005 and the highest number in a decade, the report said.

The number of children living in poverty has risen from 25.4 percent in 1999 to 30.3 percent - an estimated 111,683 children - in 2004, according to the report, which was produced for the city by the nonprofit group Philadelphia Safe and Sound.

While some of the statistics are grim, Street said it was important to have "an honest assessment" so the city can best focus its resources devoted to children.

Street has made expanding services to improve the lives of children a cornerstone of his eight-year administration. Still, some problems have worsened and Street blamed "huge systemic problems" in society that don't seem to respond to city intervention.

He noted some services are regarded "almost as a substitute for responsible parenting." He recalled a recent meeting he had with parents and hundreds of children who had 25 or more unexcused absenses from school.

Street said he asked the children, who were sitting up front, to stand. Many refused. "They just looked at me," he said.

The mayor last year cracked down on truancy and curfew violations in response to youth violence. The effect of those and many other efforts will be reviewed in future report cards, which Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown said will continue to be funded after Street leaves office next January.

This year's report, called "Report Card 2007: The Well-Being of Children and Youth in Philadelphia," is organized into five chapters that represent "desired results" that are further broken down as "indicators." Each result and indicator is given a rating from 1 to 5, with 5 being the worst.

For the first time since the annual reports began, an indicator - lead exposure - was given a 1. The report said the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood has dropped by 69 percent since 1998.

However, more than 25,000 children in Philadelphia were not covered by any medical insurance last year, the report said.

In 2005, homicides accounted for 57 percent of the total 119 deaths of youth ages 15 to 19. But the teen suicide rate fell to its lowest level in 10 years.

After decreases in prior years, the number of juveniles arrested for gun offenses increased by 27 percent in 2006, the report said.

The number of public school ninth-graders who drop out within four years has decreased from 31.2 percent in 1999-00 to 23 percent in 2005-06.

Still, the report noted, the high rate "remains a major concern."

Another indicator that garnered a 5 was in SAT scores, which have almost consistently declined since 1996-97, according to the report.

Last year, the average SAT score in the Philadelphia School District was 792. The national average was 1,021.


Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.

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