Montana fared worse this year than last in terms of child well-being and remains last when it comes to children’s health rankings, according to the new National Kids Count Data Book.
The state dropped from 28 to 31 among other states in the findings, which are being released Tuesday as part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 25th annual Kids Count, which weighs 16 factors in the areas of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
“We are working in the right direction in most areas,” said Thale Dillon, director of Montana Kids Count. “I think making a big deal out of our three-spot drop in ranking is not necessarily meaningful because what we should look at is how we’re moving ahead in these areas — not necessarily how we’re moving in relation to other states.”
While Montana retained its rank of 14 in the family and community area and remained No. 50 for children’s health, the state also dropped from 15 to 25 for economic well-being and from 13 to 21 in education.
“Even though we didn’t do poorly necessarily, other states did much better,” Dillon said of the declines in economic well-being and education.
The rankings are based on data from 2008 to 2013 compared to a base year. None of the base years are the most recent year.
In Montana, choosing a base year helps to show the long-term trend rather than the peaks and valleys that anomalies can cause, Dillon said.
“And that’s what you need to focus on, not the changes from one year to the next,” she said.
Despite the overall drop, there were several bright spots in the compiled data, including fewer teen births, fewer teens abusing drugs or alcohol, and more high school students graduating on time while more youngsters are participating in preschool programs.
The state dropped 10 spots to 25 in the economic well-being assessment. The percentage of children living in poverty in 2012 remained unchanged from the 2005 percentage of 20 percent. The number of teens not in school and not working also remained unchanged at 10 percent in both 2008 and 2012.
Montana dropped in ranking to 21st in the education area, even though preschool attendance and on-time high school graduation rates are up.
Despite improvements in the number of children living in high-poverty areas (7 percent in 2008-12 versus 8 percent in 2000) and in the number of teen births per 1,000 (29 in 2012 compared to 35 in 2005), Montana held steady in its ranking of 14 for the family and community area.