Welcome to Atlanta 

The city too busy for children

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At least the AJC is consistent. About once a year, some study or the other comes out that slams Georgia's treatment of children, and the newspaper reluctantly doles out a little story, 300 words one year, maybe 400 the next.

To be fair and to the AJC's credit, the daily marshaled its troops to give good coverage to mayhem in the foster-care system and the 1998 death-by-abuse of 5-year-old Terrell Peterson.

Other than that, however, about the only time in recent history when the AJC seemed a bit fascinated over the plight of children was after a national television report on the mass outbreak of venereal disease among just-post-puberty girls in suburban Rockdale.

Thus, it appears to take a tragic death or teen sex escapades to get a rise, so to speak, out of the AJC's editors. The mere day-to-day rancid lives of many Georgia children is irrelevant.

With the "Kid-Friendly Cities" study, the AJC heaped insult onto its usual neglect. The paper's itsy-bitsy article hardly took the report seriously. Under a headline that whined "Not 'kid-friendly?" (note the question mark), the item implied the report was so much hokum, and conclusively sniffed: "For some reason, more than 102,000 people moved here anyway last year...."

Aside from the stunningly faulty logic (if the newspaper doesn't report that Atlanta is a Dickensian civic Fagin, how the hell are new residents supposed to guess the truth - until they get here and it slams them in the face?), I was beginning to suspect a cover-up, a conspiracy. This is The State That Abandons Children, and no one wants to admit it.

Checking online archives and the websites of kid-focused foundations, I discovered that Atlanta and Georgia have been bouncing around at the bottom of more than one study on children.

For example, an annual report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore - much relied on by government agencies and the media nationally - pegs Georgia as No. 44 in its ranking of how states treat children. Georgia had soared to a heady No. 42 in 1997 (wheee!), but we've been in full retreat since then.

Now, coupled with the "Kid-Friendly Cities" study by Zero Population Growth that rates Atlanta No. 25 out of 25 cities, you'd begin to think that someone in the ill-defined group I'll call, by default, "leaders" would have taken up kids as a cause. And that the AJC would consider this real news.

After all, there seems to be plenty of money floating around in Georgia. Just look at all the cash spilling out of the pockets of lobbyists for the video poker industry - and into the pockets of legislators. Surely, there must be a pittance for children.

So I called up a "lobbyist" for children, Gustave Thomas of Georgians for Children. "How's your funding, Gustave?" I asked. "We're broke," he sighed. I thought: You should change your name to Georgians for Children Who Love Unrestrained Development and Fatcat Politicians, and then you'd get tons and tons of dollars. Under the table, of course.

When you look at the various reports on children, a pattern emerges. It ain't pretty. For example, the only category in the Casey Foundation study in which Georgia is even average is deaths by homicide, suicide and accident for children aged 15-18 (the state is No. 25). But, if you study the report diligently, you'll see we're so far below average in rankings of deaths of children under age 15 (No. 39 for infants, No. 36 for ages 1-14), there are probably just a whole lot fewer of them who can expire in their late teen years. Kill 'em early, and the teen numbers look better, so to speak.

The just released "Kid-Friendly Cities" report rated about 20 factors, ranging from SAT scores to unemployment. The researchers scored us with C's in health, public safety and environment; A's and B's in education, economics and community life. That doesn't sound too bad until you realize that no city garnered D's or F's in any category - a form of "let's not embarrass the politicians too much" grading curve. The top spots were won by Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis and New York, with Washington, Baltimore, Detroit and Atlanta being the butt-end. Notably, the only Southern cities that scored above average were all in Texas - Fort Worth, Houston and Dallas. Maybe George W. Bush actually managed to do something right.

Georgia didn't do much better in the "Kid-Friendly" ranking of 140 smaller cities. Savannah was No. 115, Columbus scored No. 124 and Macon was fourth from the bottom at No. 137. Again, Southern cities were scarce among the top third and dominated the bottom third.

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