In publishing its Child Health Report for 2003, the group maintains that the document shows a clear correlation between the funding allocated by the General Assembly and its impact on child health issues.
For example, Institute officials say that initiatives in recent years have helped significantly to improve the overall wellbeing of children in the state.
On the other hand, the report states that the long-time underfunding of child protective services, and the recent reduction of funds for services to prevent child abuse and neglect have resulted in an epidemic of confirmed cases of child mistreatment.
According to the conclusions in the report, some of the initiatives that have had a direct impact on child health in recent years have been:
* Improved access to publicly-supported health insurance, which has dropped the number of uninsured children in the state to its lowest level.
* Making vaccines available to all children at little or no cost, which has improved the state's child immunization rates at age two to among the best in the nation.
* Passage of laws requiring smoke detectors, bicycle helmets, child passenger safety restraints and graduated drivers licenses, which have resulted in dramatic declines in child injury deaths.
Dr. Gordon DeFriese, president of the institute, says there is reason for celebration.
"The death rates for infants and children are the lowest ever reported, and there has been progress in almost all areas. Our immunization rate is one of the best in the nation, our public insurance programs are expanding access to health care, and the progress in reducing teen pregnancies is encouraging.
"There also is reason for worry," DeFriese said. "We still need lots more improvement in most areas, and for some, we are going in the wrong direction. Child abuse and neglect continues to be an epidemic, access to dental care for children on Medicaid is very poor, and more and more of our children are overweight."
Tom Vitaglione, senior fellow for Health at the institute, points out that where there are positive results with regard to children's health, the General Assembly has focused interest on them by adequate funding of initiatives. He states that the General Assembly's investments, along with those of coalitions that include state and local agencies, providers, and child/family advocates, has played a vital role in these improvements.
He states that North Carolina's goal to become "First in Education" is a laudable goal; however, leaders must pay more attention to the relationship between student health/well-being and student success in school.
"Children who do not feel safe at home, or have trouble seeing or hearing, or are too ill to be in school regularly, will not be high achievers academically," said Vitaglione. "Investments in health and safety must complement investments in education."
Bladen County Health Director Myra Johnson says the initiatives of recent years have positively impacted the health of children in Bladen County. However, results in some areas have not always mirrored results statewide. For instance, teen pregnancy rates have been up in Bladen over the past few years while they have fallen across the state.
Better access to publicly funded medical care has added more than 700 children to the number who have access to some type of medical insurance in the county. Presently, 716 children in Bladen County are enrolled in North Carolina Health Choice, according to statistics from Bladen County Social Services.
A larger number of children are also enrolled in Medicaid than in the years prior to the implementation of Health Choice. This is likely a result of the process used to screen children for Health Choice, which first screens them to determine if they are Medicaid eligible.
"One of the most positive things that has helped children in Bladen County, I believe, is the implementation of Health Choice," said Johnson.
Johnson states, however, that she is concerned about the number of children in the county who are either overweight or at risk for becoming overweight.
"Statistics have supported the premise that overweight children lead to overweight adults," Johnson said. "And many chronic diseases relate back to the individuals being obese."