State ranks low in kid well-being

Published 12:36 am Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The state of Alabama ranked near the bottom in improving the well- being of its children.

The 2016 Kids Count Data Book was released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Foundation looks at 16 indicators in four areas: economic well-being, education, health and family and community, to make its determination of how well children are in each state and as a whole nationally.

The state is ranked 46th nationally and the state saw a drop in ranking from last year’s 45th.

Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi ranked lower.

“While we are certainly pleased to see progress in some of the Kids Count Data Book indicators over the last six years, it is hard to applaud where we stand relative to the rest of the country,” said Melanie R. Bridgeforth, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children. “In order to improve our state funding, we must look beyond the rankings and study the story behind the numbers.”

Though the state is lagging, it has seen tremendous improvements in the last eight years.

The percentage of Alabama’s children without health insurance has been cut in half and is down to 4 percent; the percentage of teens who use alcohol and drugs has decreased 29 percent to 5 percent, which is the fifth lowest percentage nationwide.

The state has also seen momentous decreases in low-birth weight births and child and teen deaths.

Other improvement were in the teen birth rate category, which has decreased by 37 percent and the percentage of children who live in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma decreased by 13 percent.

The Foundation found this year that the state’s children fared the worst in economic domain.

Since 2008, poverty stricken children has increased 27 percent; the number of children whose parents lack secure employment has increased by 13 percent and the percentage of children living in households with a high cost burden has increased by 3 percent.

The percentage of children living in single-parent families increased by 11 percent compared to eight years ago.

Another area in which the state fared horribly was the report’s education indicators.

More high school students are graduating on time, but the report found that fewer 3 and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool.

“With the implementation of Plan 2020, Alabama leaders have begun taking steps to improve our children’s educational outcomes, but the results will take time before we start to see our test numbers come up,” Bridgeforth said. “The Kids Count Data Book demonstrates how important it is for Alabama to stay the course with its college and career ready standards and why we must continue to increase access to high-quality pre-k classrooms.”

What would it take for the state to improve?

To equal the national average of 22 percent children in poverty, 59,478 children would have exit the world of poverty. To equal the No.1 spot of 13 percent, the state would have to reduce the number of children in poverty by 159,100.

Voices for Alabama’s Children has not yet released the 2016 Alabama Kids Count Data Book, but in 2015 Covington County was ranked 42 among the 67 counties.