Child poverty rates in La Plata and Montezuma counties are falling, newly released data show.
A report from the Colorado Children’s Campaign showed child poverty rates in La Plata County dropped to 11.2% in 2017, down from a peak of about 15% in 2015. In Montezuma County, child poverty rates dropped to 22.5%, down from a peak of 31.5% in 2012.
When families rise out of poverty, it ensures children have access to stable housing, safe communities, food security, high-quality health and educational options, said Erica Manoatl, research analyst with the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
“A falling child poverty rate demonstrates that more Colorado children are securing access to these essential resources each year,” she said.
However, the falling poverty rate doesn’t paint the full picture, in part, because the federal definition of poverty has not been updated since the 1950s, and it doesn’t take into account the cost of living differences across the state, said Riley Kitts, government affairs director for the Children’s Campaign.
La Plata County Director of Human Services Martha Johnson said she was pleased to see the child poverty rate falling, but her office has not observed a decline in community need.
“It’s difficult at Human Services to see that the level of child poverty is falling because our population keeps growing. ... Our case load tends to stay pretty stable,” she said.
Johnson was also heartened because the report showed the number of children per 1,000 in out-of-home placements in La Plata County is lower than the state average. In La Plata County, 6.2 children per 1,000 are in out-of-home placements compared to 8.1 per 1,000 across the state.
Johnson credited the county’s school districts and some nonprofits, such as the La Plata Family Centers Coalition, for supporting families and helping to connect parents with services.
“I think our community has become more aware over time of how important every nurturing experience is in a kid’s life,” she said.
La Plata County Human Services staff also works to keep children with their families when possible, she said.
“There’s been a lot of research that just keeps showing over and over that kids have better outcomes if they can stay with their family,” she said.
The focus on keeping children with their families has been ongoing for about a decade, Johnson said.
In Montezuma County, while the poverty rate is falling, at about 24%, it is well above the state average of 12.2%.
“There is a lot of room to continue to do better,” said Chuck McAfee with Team Up Southwest Colorado, a group focused on helping children thrive in Montezuma and Dolores counties.
More funding for education would be one of the most worthwhile investments in the future of Montezuma County, he said.
More funding could help the district attract and keep qualified teachers, which is a basic issue that must be addressed, he said.
“Organizations are driven and defined by the people who are in them,” he said.
Proposition CC, a November ballot question, could help fund schools across Colorado by allowing the state to keep revenue it would otherwise be required to refund because of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The revenue will be invested in education and transportation if the ballot measure passes.
McAfee said he didn’t expect the measure to pass in Montezuma County, but it might have a chance statewide and that would still be an investment in local schools.
“The state is, I think, becoming more progressive, and that is what gives me hope,” he said.