MAY 18, 11:04 EDT

9 Million Kids Face Family Problems

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — About 9.2 million American children are dealing with numerous adverse family conditions that rob them of their ability to become ``productive, adult participants in the mainstream of America's future,'' according to a survey released today.

About one in seven children face at least four out of six risk factors affecting their chance for success, the 1999 Kids Count survey reported. Among them: growing up in a single-parent household or with parents who lack a high school education or who do not have full-time jobs. The other risk factors are living in poverty, relying on welfare and lacking health insurance.

Many high-risk children come from poor families and live in inner-city or rural neighborhoods cut off from good job opportunities, quality schools and strong community support, said Douglas W. Nelson, president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation that sponsors the survey.

``These millions are the children of the families who are still struggling to transition from welfare to work,'' he said today at a news conference. ``These are the children of moms and dads who have too little education and work experience to succeed in the changing economy.''

Children growing up with multiple family risk factors are more likely to fail than the average American child.

Nelson said a child from a family with four risk factors is 26 times more likely to drop out of school than a child from a no-risk family; likewise, a girl in a four-risk category is 160 times more likely to end up a teen mother than her no-risk female counterpart.

California has the largest number of highly vulnerable children — about 1.5 million kids from that state had four or more risk factors. Wyoming had the least, with 10,000.

The District of Columbia has the largest share of kids in the high-risk category, at 39 percent, followed by Louisiana, at 22 percent, and Mississippi, at 21 percent. Utah, with 5 percent, has the smallest share.

Black and Hispanic children are more likely than white children to grow up in families with multiple risks, the survey said. Nearly 30 percent of all black children and 25 percent of Hispanic children are in the high-risk category, compared with 6 percent of white children.

About one in four high-risk children live in a rural area and one in three live in poor, urban neighborhoods.

The Kids Count survey is released annually by the Casey Foundation, a children's advocacy group based in Baltimore.

The survey uses 10 factors to gauge conditions affecting young people, including rates for poverty, infant mortality, high school dropouts, teen births, and violent crime arrests for juveniles.

The survey reported a slight dip in the national child poverty rate over an 11-year-period. In 1996, the most recent year available for the survey, 20 percent of the nation's children were impoverished, compared to the 21 percent who lived below the poverty rate in 1985. Alaska, New Hampshire and Utah had the least poor children; Louisiana had the most.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.