Ocean County slipped one spot to 12th overall in the state's 2016 Kids Count rankings, which measure progress in improving the lives of children in 13 critical areas.

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The reports are published by Advocates for Children of New Jersey and executive director Cecilia Zalkind noted that while Ocean County saw progress in several key areas, there was a slight increase in child poverty, in which families were earning too little to meet their needs.

"If you look at were the County is, it's moved from 14th last year to 15th this year in Child Poverty. I think that has probably had the biggest impact on its ranking," said Zalkind.

The Child Poverty rate in Ocean County is higher than the rate in New Jersey, according to Zalkind.

"21 percent of children live in poverty in the county, compared to 16 percent statewide," Zalkind said. She pointed out it's a big problem with many complex issues, including whether educational services are being provided to children, unemployment and family income.

The federal poverty level applies equally to every state, and currently is $23,000 a year for a family of four, according to Zalkind.

"That $23,000 a year in New Jersey is quite different than $23,000 a year in Alabama or Arkansas. We have a very high cost state in which to live, so to me it means that the poverty issue is far more serious. It means that families in New Jersey are barely surviving. This makes it very difficult to put food on the table " said Zalkind.

Chronic absenteeism, a new area included in the report, also is a problem in Ocean County, Zalkind pointed out.

"The county has 13 percent of children who are considered chronically absent, who miss 10 percent or more of the school year. That's higher than the statewide average, which is 10 percent, and ranks Ocean County as 17th compared to the rest of the state," said Zalkind. She added, "The solutions are fairly direct and the result can be very positive."

Zalkind noted some of the reasons for chronic absenteeism in other parts of the state were due to parents not having access to before and after school care, or the school opening time being in conflict with their job. It's an issue she said they'll be looking at more deeply in the coming year.

Ocean County did improve in some key areas. Zalkind noted that there were declines in both unemployment and the percentage of households spending too much on rent. The strongest progress was in pregnant women receiving early prenatal care, she added. The rate of infant mortality and birth to teens remained the same.

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