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Thursday, June 22, 2000

Encouraging progress
on children’s welfare

Bullet The issue: Despite the state's economic problems. Hawaii showed improvement in several gauges of children's welfare.

Bullet Our view: With the economy showing signs of strength, more progress should be achievable.

DESPITE a stagnant economy that cost thousands of jobs during the 1990s, impressive progress was made in several aspects of children's welfare in Hawaii. Reflecting economic conditions, the state's child poverty rate rose by 20 percent between 1990 and 1997, according to the annual Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The increase means that 18 percent of Hawaii's children were impoverished, compared to 15 percent in 1990. Meanwhile the nationwide child poverty rate increased just 5 percent but at 21 percent was still somewhat higher than Hawaii's rate.

In a related indicator, Hawaii children living with parents who did not have full-time or year-round jobs increased from 25 percent to 32 percent between 1990 and 1997. During that period, the nationwide rate of children with jobless or underemployed parents fell from 30 percent to 27 percent. Meanwhile the number of single-parent families in Hawaii rose 14 percent.

However, the state achieved some of the nation's lowest mortality rates for children and teen-agers, and a declining teen birth rate. These are significant achievements.

Marcia Hartsock, a researcher in the University of Hawaii's Center on the Family who is project director for Hawaii Kids Count, commented, "Where we've gotten worse has been in the economic areas. I think we are kind of starting out on an upward swing but it will take a while."

For overall child well-being, the foundation ranked Hawaii 13th among the 50 states -- the same ranking as last year but down from the state's 1998 ranking of eighth -- as a result of improvement in health and educational categories. With the economy showing signs of renewed strength, it should be possible to raise that overall ranking in future years .

Hawaii had a 47 percent drop in the rate of teen-age deaths from 1990 to 1997, while the nation as a whole experienced an increase of 18 percent. The state ranked No. 2 in the nation in this category. There were 27 deaths per 100,000 teens ages 15-19 in 1997, down from 51 deaths per 100,000 in 1990, the report said. Hawaii's death rate for children ages 1-14 -- the third lowest in the nation -- fell from 26 per 100,000 in 1990 to 19 per 100,000 in 1997.

Hawaii experienced a 29 percent decline in the percentage of teens who drop out of high school and achieved the second-lowest dropout rate in the nation. Meanwhile the country as a whole saw no change in the dropout rate.

Moreover, the rate of Hawaii teens ages 15-17 giving birth fell 22 percent, from 32 girls per 1,000 to 25. Nationwide, the teen birth rate fell 14 percent, from 37 per 1,000 to 32.

The Hawaii numbers represent real progress in the face of economic adversity. They constitute evidence that Hawaii's social fabric is holding.

But further improvements can be achieved. Government, schools, nonprofit social agencies, churches and community groups must maintain and if possible increase their efforts to help Hawaii's children lead happy and healthy lives.

Bribery on city links

Bullet The issue: Police have arrested two city-county employees for allegedly accepting bribes for tee times at Ala Wai Golf Course.

Bullet Our view: An automated system of scheduling tee times aimed at eliminating favoritism may need improvement.

AN automated system of scheduling tee times at Honolulu city-county golf courses was installed four years ago to create fair access and eliminate favoritism. The arrest of two employees at Ala Wai Golf Course on charges of accepting bribes for choice tee times suggests the system leaves room for abuse and needs to be refined.

Before the system was installed, some golfers could be seen beating enormous odds in obtaining prime tee times at Ala Wai, reputed to be the world's busiest golf course. Some golfers managed to get the same starting times as often as four times a week.

The new system of getting tee times by phone, using computers and city golf identification cards, was supposed to prevent that from happening by creating accountability.

A clerk and operations assistant at Ala Wai are accused of accepting bribes of $5 to $6 per golfer to circumvent the system and put them on the first tee. They allegedly collected $60 to $120 a day. Police say more arrests could include other employees and golfers who may have paid the bribes.

Although automated, the new system has some flexibility. Openings may occur for standby golfers when groups fail to show up for their scheduled times.

In addition, the city-county courses retain "starters' times," open slots that number one per hour. Privately owned courses generally use such openings to accommodate regular customers and friends of management. But starters' times are inappropriate at public courses, serving no purpose except to provide a means for favoritism -- or bribery.

Complaints to the mayor's office led to the eight-month investigation, involving stakeouts and surveillance cameras, that resulted in the recent arrests at Ala Wai. In addition to the arrests, the investigation may have revealed weak spots in the system that can be abused for financial gain.

While the investigation was focused on Ala Wai, city officials should recognize that the automated tee-time system embraces all six city-county-run golf courses. Defects in the system should be eliminated to prevent further abuse at any of the courses.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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