Wyoming drops several spots on child wellness report

2014-07-22T08:30:00Z Wyoming drops several spots on child wellness reportBy AERIN CURTIS Wyoming Tribune Eagle The Billings Gazette

Despite seeing improvements in multiple areas, Wyoming’s overall ranking on a national children’s well-being report dropped several spaces.

Officials noted that, while the state has improved in some areas, its improvement has matched other states. Additionally, Wyoming continues to struggle with child wellness.

Laura Speer is the associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The group released its 2014 Kids County Data Book on Tuesday; the annual report monitors children’s well-being across the country.

“Other states are making bigger gains,” said Speer. “Relative to other states, the improvement hasn’t been as great.”

Wyoming earned its worst ranking for child wellness in health — the state ranked 45th nationally. The score was a drop from 39th place the year before.

The percentage of children without health insurance hasn’t changed between 2009 and 2012, according to the data.

The number of teenagers who use alcohol and drugs, however, has dropped from 10 percent in 2005-06 to 7 percent in 2011-12. Still, this remains above the national average of 6 percent.

Similarly, the number of child and teen deaths is down. And there was a slight decrease in the percentage of low-birth-weight babies born.

The Wyoming Department of Health is aware of several of the concerns noted in the report, public information officer Kim Deti said.

“We’ve known for quite some time that low birth weight is an issue, and we have a number of programs,” she said.

One of the causes tends to be smoking during pregnancy, she said. The state has been concerned about that behavior for some time.

There also are some programs available to help parents get health insurance for their children, she added. These include Medicaid and the Kid Care CHIP program.

There also is ongoing work by different groups in the state to address topics like child safety and underage drinking, Deti said.

“We don’t want youth to drink, and too many do,” she said.

Wyoming was graded in four separate main areas: economic well-being, education, health and family and community. Each area also included several subcategories.

For the 2014 report, Wyoming ranked 19th in the country for students’ well-being. It was a drop from last year’s 15th place.

And, according to the report, it was one of the biggest drops in position by a state.

Wyoming has a large difference between its highest-rated areas and lowest — while sixth in economic well-being, the state ranks 45th in health, according to the report.

“It’s kind of an incredible difference,” Speer said. “(It’s) one of the biggest gaps or differences of any state in terms of one domain can be really good and the other can be in the bottom five — it’s a pretty stark difference.”

In the specific areas examined, Wyoming fared the best in children’s economic well-being.

The state ranked sixth nationally in that category. But it was a drop from second place.

According to the report, more children live in poverty, have parents who lack secure employment, and live in families with a high housing cost burden, than the last time the information was available.

Wyoming had fewer children in families where the parents had little formal education. And the teenage birth rate dropped from 43 births per 1,000 to 35. But the percentage of children in single-parent families and children living in high poverty areas increased.

The state ranked 16th nationally for the category. It was a drop from the previous report, where Wyoming ranked 12th for family and community wellness.

The state ranked 24th for education, an improvement from 26th the year before.

According to the report, Wyoming improved in the educational subcategories examined.

“The improvements, like in eighth-grade math scores and graduation rate, (were) in a short amount of time, and that’s good. But it feels like there’s still a way to go,” Speer said.

From 2005 to 2013, the percentage of fourth-graders who weren’t proficient in reading dropped from 66 percent to 63 percent. And the percentage of eighth-graders not proficient in math dropped from 71 percent in 2005 to 62 percent in 2013, according to the report.

“We continue to do this because we believe it’s important to measure and monitor child well-being,” Speer said. “It is critical to the future of our country.”

The foundation started the Kids Count report in 1990, according to report information.

The report offers a way for states to look at trends over time and hold policymakers accountable, Speer said.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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