CHEYENNE — A national report on child well-being showed a significant increase in the number of child deaths in Wyoming, placing the state next to last in that category.
Using data from 2003, the annual Kids Count report showed Wyoming with 37 deaths for every 100,000 children between the ages of 1 and 14, up from 27 deaths per 100,000 in 2000. Infant and teen deaths are counted separately.
"We're doing better than many states overall," said Marc Homer, the Kids Count coordinator with the nonprofit Wyoming Children's Action Alliance, citing Wyoming's overall ranking of 28th out of 50 states. Wyoming ranked 33rd in 2000.
However, he said, some other states "have been much more proactive to assure the well-being of children, and those efforts have had the positive effect."
Marilyn Patton, administrator of protective services for the Wyoming Department of Family Services, said the state's growing methamphetamine problem may also be contributing to the rise in child deaths.
"The abuse deaths in recent years, over 50 percent of them have been related to meth use by their parents," Patton said.
Wyoming's teen death rate — 85 deaths per 100,000 teens — also rose between 2000 to 2003, with Wyoming ranked 41st in the country. But that's well below the 125 deaths per 100,000 recorded during the 1990s, a decline Patton attributed to increased suicide prevention efforts. She said the state's new graduated driver's licenses may help save even more teenagers' lives.
Although child and teen deaths were up, infant mortality was down. The state also saw declines in teen births, child poverty and high school dropouts.
Rodger McDaniel, director of Family Services, said keeping kids in school can help raise some of the other measures used in the Kids Count report.
"The things you have to do to keep kids in school are the things that help kids succeed in life," he said. "If the dropout rate is going down, that's a proxy that tells a lot of other good things are happening with kids and families."
Still, McDaniel said he's puzzled by the state's continuing problem with low-birth-weight babies — a measure on which Wyoming has scored low for years. "We've got to figure that one out," he said.