Gazette opinion: Kids Count report highlights growth areas for state

2013-07-08T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Kids Count report highlights growth areas for state The Billings Gazette
July 08, 2013 12:00 am

When it comes to Montana children’s health and well-being, a disturbing trend is beginning to emerge.

For the second consecutive year, Montana ranked 28th among the states in measures of child and teen welfare, according to the 2013 National Kids Count Data Book. There were some small signs of improvement, but not enough to nudge Montana higher in the overall ranking, which is troublesome.

In the same report, Wyoming moved from 19th in the nation to 15th in national ranking on child and teen welfare. The report was released last month by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report gives the states both an overall ranking and scores in four separate areas — economic well-being; education; health and family and community.

Why care? A child’s health is the foundation for overall development. It helps determine how well a child will perform in school and is an indicator of how successful a child will be in adulthood.

The report is helpful in that it is a tool that health and education leaders can use to see how the state ranks on factors that influence its overall health in comparison to other states.

It is a measuring stick to see what areas need tweaking.

It is one report that reflects a snapshot in time, but it helps raise awareness of the issues the child population faces in Montana. It is important in that properly collected and reported data are critical to making responsible decisions.

The rankings represent a combined score based on more than a dozen pieces of data collected in the same way by each of the 50 states. The individual data points reveal much more about how the states are doing than the overall ranking. Here’s a look:

 Montana remained stagnant in having 64 percent of fourth-graders not proficient in reading and 18 percent of high school students not graduating on time.

 Twenty percent of Montana’s children live below the poverty line, unchanged from a year ago.

 Montana once again ranked dead last among the 50 states when it comes to children’s overall health.

 The number of youths 16 to 19 who are not in school or working improved to 7 percent.

 Fifty-four percent of Montana’s eighth-graders are not proficient in math compared to 64 percent in 2012.

 Montana continues to have a high rate of child and teen deaths at 45 deaths per 100,000.

It’s a mixed bag of results. Some scores are praiseworthy, but the survey also highlights some areas that need attention.

Because a variety of factors are used in determining the rankings, everyone has a role to play in tackling the health challenges in the state.

Health, education and political leaders should use the report and its findings to build on success and mobilize to take meaningful action and implement programs and policy changes in the areas that need improvement.

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