Census: Nevada Rates Ninth in Stepchildren

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When Luz Ramirez started to date Herbey Gonzalez three years ago, she wasn't sure how her 6-year-old daughter would take to him.

"She would never talk to any men that came around after I separated from her dad," she said.

Now that she's married to Herbey, her daughter, Margarita, insists on using the last name of Gonzalez, and the family lives together under one Las Vegas roof.

They are among the blended families reflected in a new Census Bureau report that shows Nevada was among the 10 states with the highest percent of children who live with stepparents.

According to the report released this week, 6.6 percent of all children in Nevada were stepchildren in 2000, ranking the state ninth nationwide. The same report showed 2.3 percent of Nevada's children were adopted, tying the state for third from last.

And though Luz said her new family has given her and her daughter a renewed lease on life, experts said the report's numbers aren't good news for the state as a whole.

Experts said the rankings show Nevada isn't the best place for families to stay together - as shown by the high numbers of divorces and unmarried couples in earlier census reports - and also isn't friendly toward children.

Linda Wilcox, manager for the Court Appointed Special Advocates, an agency that works for children who are wards of the state, agreed.

"I think there is a connection between the two when you look at the community as a whole," Wilcox said. "There is a lack of stability. We're also not a very progressive community when it comes to kid issues. When push comes to shove, we're more concerned about infrastructure and gaming."

Mark Odell, professor of marriage and family therapy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas said that Nevada is a "heavily individualistic state, where the idea is as long as I have income to pay my bills, I don't need anybody else.

"You have to work hard to find an environment that is child- and family-friendly here," he said.

The conflicts at home caused by remarrying or new relationships between the adults in the house can lead to problems for children in school and in general while they undergo the transition to a new life, Odell said.

"If you look at the school system, you're talking about numbers of children who may be coming from less stable environments," he said. "Their concentration and ability to perform in school may not be the same."