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What the new Kids Count annual report says about Charlestown

by Will Collette

Kids Count Rhode Island is a non-profit organization largely known for its exhaustive collection of statistics on the status of children in the state. Their new report for 2023 just came out and contains a mind-numbing 200 pages of data.

Charlestown and, in some cases, Chariho school district appear in every table allowing you to measure local conditions against those in other municipalities. I was especially interested in the ways Charlestown differs from its neighbors (Westerly, South Kingstown, Richmond and Hopkinton).

My compliments to Kids Count for compiling data on virtually every subject important to the raising of kids in such detail. It is now up to citizens and public officials to examine that data, draw conclusions and take action.

The data in the report extends from 2010 in some cases to 2022 at the latest. For Charlestown, that exactly coincides with the length of time our town was ruled by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) who made it a core priority to block housing for families with children and to reducing the number of children in Charlestown.

CCA leader and town planning commissar Ruth Platner even went so far as to concoct a mathematical formula to prove her contention that children are parasites who drive up taxes while contributing nothing to the community's well-being. Her calculations are no longer featured on the CCA website, but if you look deep, you can find it HERE. Spoiler: her formula is Impact=(T*A-(S*C+M))* H. You’ll have to go to her piece to find out what the components mean.

Well, the very first table in the Kids Count report shows just how successful Ruth was in curbing the plague of children. Table 1, page 9 shows that Charlestown had 1,506 children in the 2010 Census but only 1,161 in the 2020 Census, a drop of 22.9%.

Among the 39 Rhode Island cities and towns, only Narragansett had a greater slump in the number of kids at 27.2%.

The Platner-CCA anti-child policy is also reflected in the low number of births. In 2022, only 51 babies were born. Only six other towns had a lower number of births (Table 2, p.11).

Most of Charlestown’s children are white (82.4%), followed by Latinx kids (3.8%) and Native Americans (2.5%). Table 6, p. 19.

Most of these kids (70%) live in two-parent households and another 20% live in single-parent households. The remaining 10% mostly live with grandparents or other relatives. Table 3, p. 13.

You may be wondering how a municipality goes about excluding families with kids. The answer is to choke off housing through exclusionary zoning practices, and that’s exactly what Platner-CCA did. New affordable housing for families is almost non-existent in Charlestown.

This is illustrated in the Kids Count data.

For Charlestown families with incomes defined as “very low,” that means an annual income of $43,550, compared to the $85,571 median income for all families with children. For low-income families, the cost of home ownership in Charlestown consumes 80% of their annual income (Table 8, p. 29). There is no data on rentals since year-round rentals scarcely exist.

I was surprised at the poverty and income data for Charlestown.

Even though Charlestown's $85,571 median income for families with children is more than double that of Central Falls, the poorest community in Rhode Island ($36,196), it’s considerably less than our neighbors. Westerly’s median family income is $100,955. Richmond is $116,410. South Kingstown is $117,356. Hopkinton is $123,214. Table 7, p. 27. Our childhood poverty rate is higher than our neighbors with 12.9% of Charlestown’s children living below the poverty line ($23,030). Compare that to 8% in Hopkinton, 9.1% in South Kingstown and 11.2% in Westerly. No data for Richmond. Table 11, p. 41.

Kids Count devoted many pages to data on kids and crime and justice and education. I was surprised at Table 31, p. 109 that gave the rate per 1,000 for children subjected to abuse and neglect. Charlestown’s rate is 14.6. Only five communities had higher rates: Pawtucket (14.8), Westerly (15.2), Central Falls (17.8), West Warwick (19.2) and Woonsocket with 28.5.

I wonder if Charlestown has a lot of unreported cases, given the minimal presence of DCYF in town.

Charlestown’s great wealth gives it an obvious edge over most Rhode Island cities and towns. Thus, whenever I see sub-par statistics such as childhood poverty, child neglect and abuse and the lack of affordable housing, I get angry that we either leave people out or or keep them from ever getting in.

In 200 pages and 55 data charts, Kids Count seems to be at great pains not to draw conclusions but I’m not. I do not feel Charlestown should tolerate our rates of childhood poverty, lack of affordable housing and rate of child abuse and neglect.

I hope our town will study the data and figure out ways to do better for the sake of our future.

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