DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Annette Shelley works full time as a head start teacher and she’s also something of a magician — raising three girls on a salary that’s south of the threshold for poverty.

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“It’s not sometimes, it’s all the time,” she said.  “It’s nothing but the grace of God that I make it from day to day.”  And her story, experts say, is one that so many other local families share.

According to the Children’s Medical Center annual snapshot of local children’s health, “Beyond ABC: Assessing Children’s Health in Dallas County,” nearly a third of the children in Dallas County live in poverty.

“Poverty is the common factor in substandard academic achievement, exposure to crime, domestic abuse and illness, and poor health resulting from lack of access to preventive health care,” explained Christopher Durovich, president and chief executive officer of Children’s Medical Center.  “We cannot allow the cascading effect of poverty to compromise the health and well-being of such large numbers of children—the next generation of Americans and our future workforce.  If we shortchange these children now, the community will pay the price for it later.”

Among the report’s more troubling numbers:

  • 196,252 — The number of Dallas County children living in poverty in 2012 (nearly 30-percent of all Dallas County children, well above the 22 percent national average)
  • 84,000 — The increase in the number of Dallas County children living in families at or below the poverty level since 2000
  • $64 — What families live on per day—or less—when they are at or below the poverty level
  • 172,610 — The number of Dallas County children in food-insecure households (as of 2011)
  • 90,000 — The number of Dallas County children who still have no health insurance (13.4 percent of all children, almost double th national average of 7.2

If you’re still having trouble grasping the concept of nearly 200,000 children living in poverty — imagine AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys — filled to capacity some 2.5 times.

“And that’s up 54-percent since 2001,” says Durovich.  “It’s a very complicated issue related to economic insecurity, housing, where they go to school, how they get around, what their recreational opportunities are, what kind of grocery stores do they have access to to purchase food in their community.”

More than 50 local community organizations participated on an advisory board for the 2013 Beyond ABC report, establishing 61 indicators under four categories:  health, economic security, education and safety.  Data for the report were compiled by the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas.

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The advisory board made several recommendations related to education, including support for universal prekindergarten, dual-generation early-childhood education for parents and children in homes where English is not the first language, expanded meal programs, and school-business partnerships to help educate a skilled future workforce—along with recommendations for safe, affordable housing, more foster homes and more specialty courts handling juvenile justice cases.  In the area of health services, the board recommended widespread early assessment of special needs, attaining a 90-percent or better child immunization rate for preventable diseases, and establishment of more medical homes for children, which provide pediatric primary care.

From an economic perspective, experts say the findings in the report suggest that the recovery is bypassing the poorest North Texans.

“Everything is just so expensive that even if you don’t sit at home and live off the government you can still live in poverty,” says Shelley.  So the one-time teen mom turned to a financial empowerment program run by the local YWCA of Metropolitan Dallas.  Now, she says although her income hasn’t increased, she has learned to manage it better and no longer lives ‘paycheck-to-paycheck.’  She’s also just two courses away from completing her college degree in early childhood education.

“I’m going to accomplish. I’m not going to say I ‘might’ accomplish. I’m saying I am going to accomplish my dreams and I’m gonna be somebody, someday.”

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