Two years ago, Gwinnett County saw too many children in its own back yard were growing up with a disadvantage.

Children in “low to very low child well-being” areas across Gwinnett County grew up within these same geographical boundaries, but without access to the same resources. They lacked the same access to quality education, food and health care among other things.

But a lot can change in two years.

On Oct. 18, United Way of Greater Atlanta announced a 2.3-point improvement in the overall Child Well-Being score for Gwinnett County. The announcement came during United Way and Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Children Summit.

More than 350 business leaders, elected officials and community stakeholders gathered at 12Stone Church in Duluth to celebrate the improvements in Gwinnett County and praise the progress achieved because of community, corporate and nonprofit partnerships.

In 2017, United Way of Greater Atlanta saw after its strategic planning meeting that the zip code a child lived in too often determined the fate of that child. United Way observed that, statistically, because of what zip code a child was born into, he or she was handed a disadvantage beyond their control. Through a set of 14 measures, United Way calculated at the time a child well-being score of 58.9 for the 13-county region.

In the spring, officials announced the score had improved in two years to 61.8. That equates to a change in the lives of more than 82,000 children in the region living in low or very low child well-being.
In Gwinnett in 2017, the county had a score of 61.8, but Ginneh Baugh, vice president of Strategic Impact for United Way, said Oct. 18 the score had improved to 64.1. Gwinnett’s score, while higher than the region average, still tells the story of 52,000 children who are living in low or very low child well-being communities, Baugh says.

“It’s about, ‘How are all the children in Gwinnett and in our region doing?’” Baugh said. “It’s not just about what we want for kids in terms of them being smart. I want them to have lots of opportunities in front of them. It’s about making sure the children have the opportunities, resources and social supports they need to reach their full potential. We can take that on.”

United Way saw previously that our region was one of the largest regions growing in suburban poverty in the country, Baugh said. The communities with low child well-being were spread across the 13-county footprint. There are still extreme disparities among Gwinnett County zip codes with the lowest-scoring zip code rating 23.7 and the highest at 81.9.

This means there is definitely still a need in Gwinnett, Baugh said.

“We can’t claim victory, but we can claim progress,” Baugh said. “We’re really excited to see that map change. Also, that’s a big part of what we’re here for. We need something to put our stake in the ground on. By moving forward, the pieces are coming together.”

Gwinnett County saw overall improvements in high school graduation rates, decline in births to mothers without a diploma and more adults who now have health insurance, Baugh said.

Baugh spoke of the progress in Lawrenceville, a four zip code area where there was a 3.2-point increase in child well-being up to 64.2. Lawrenceville saw improvements in high school graduation rates, but an increase in children of families in poverty and fewer financially stable families. These “headwinds” help show us where we need to focus our efforts, she said.

United Way is driving change in its three big roles as a strategic philanthropic partner, data-driven investor and by acting as convener and catalysts for change, Baugh says.

“All of this is so we can activate people, align dollars and really see a significant change,” says Baugh.

There’s still work to be done in the region, though. For example, Baugh said there’s still a “25-point gap” in third-grade reading for communities in low child well-being. But by bringing people and resources together, we can drive collective impact and lasting change.

“We really have to make sure the opportunities are there for all children, regardless of where you grow up,” Baugh said. “Our system is not fully working to meet their needs. There are gaps to close, but we think it’s possible to make that change.

“Progress is possible when good people move from ideas to action.”

To help empower progress and put this plan to action, donate today to United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being Impact Fund.