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Kids Are Better Off Than Adults, Rearch Finds

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In spite of often negative headlines about America's children, they actually are doing better than most adults think, suggests new research from Child Trends, a family advocacy organization.

And that news could influence the future of programs designed to help children, the report says.

Americans are focused on negative news about the well-being of children and are unaware of the good news, says Lina Guzman, a senior research analyst at the organization. The report she co-wrote is called How Kids Are Doing: The Mismatch Between Public Perception and Statistical Reality.

The number of children on welfare rolls has been cut in half, from 8.7 million in 1996 to 4.4 million in 2000. But about two-fifths (40%) of adults believe the number of children on public assistance has increased; 34% say the number has stayed the same, the report says.

And despite the fact that violent crime by teens is at its lowest levels in more than 25 years, about two-thirds of the public (66%) believe the percentage of teens who commit such crimes has increased.

About 16% of American children live in poverty. But almost half (49%) of adults believe about 30% of children do, the report says.

''Our findings suggest that a lot of the good news about children is not filtering into the public consciousness,'' Guzman says.

And that matters. What the public believes influences what policymakers do. If policymakers don't know the good news, they might not ''invest in the programs that support these gains,'' she says.

For example, Guzman says, federal programs have helped reduce the number of children who lack health insurance to 12%. But 93% of those polled believe 20% to 30% of children lack health insurance.

The organization's president, Kristin Moore, emphasizes ''the fact that so much of the public overestimates problems among children does not mean that serious problems don't exist.'' But it does mean the public is unaware of progress made by parents, communities and government.

Many sources, including the news media, influence opinions about children, the report says. But it also states that ''the status and well-being of children are rarely covered.''

The poll of 1,000 adults has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

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© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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