States' Ratings on Child Well-Being Revealed

— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff


Geography Matters: Child Well-Being in the States (cover)NASW is working with the Every Child Matters Education Fund to promote a new report that ranks states on child well-being standards, with the goal of bringing increased attention to these issues by presidential candidates.

The report, Geography Matters: Child Well-Being in the States, was released during an April 2 live telephone news conference. NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark was one of three speakers during the event.

The report shows large disparities in child well-being across the United States. "Across the United States, where a child is born and raised can make a shockingly large difference to their chances of getting and staying healthy and then surviving to adulthood," according to Every Child Matters.

"Every candidate and office seeker should be asked to speak to these findings," Michael Petit, founder of Every Child Matters and the author of the report, said during the news conference. "How will the candidates close the gaps that exist between the states?" Petit is a social worker and an NASW member.

In her comments, Clark noted that while the United States is spending money to shore up the economy and fortify its borders, "Eight million children in the U.S. lack health insurance. In our own country, investments are not being made in our children and the promise they hold.

"Social workers are dedicated to helping children, families and communities, and we bear witness to the highs and lows of what is represented in this report," Clark said. "We will be asking for a national commitment to protect all children, create equal opportunities and strengthen families and communities.

"Children don't vote, and sometimes poor families don't vote," Clark noted. "We need more advocates for this category of American citizen who are at such a disadvantage."

The report rates the 50 states on 10 major child well-being standards. The 10 bottom states identified are Arizona, South Dakota, Nevada, Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Mississippi, and at number 50, Louisiana.

The report's top 10 states for children are Maine, Washington, Minnesota, Iowa, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts, with Vermont ranked as the best state.

According to the report, children in the lowest-ranking states are:

  • Twice as likely to die in their first year as children in the highest-ranking state.
  • Three times more likely to die between the ages of 1 and 14.
  • Five times more likely to have mothers who received late or no prenatal care.
  • Eight times more likely to be incarcerated.

Additional findings were:

  • A child living in the bottom 10 states is twice as likely to live in poverty as a child in the top 10. In Mississippi, the child poverty rate is 3 times greater than in Maryland or New Hampshire.
  • Children in the bottom 10 states are 6.7 times more likely to die from abuse and neglect as children in the top states. In Oklahoma, children are 13 times more likely to die from abuse or neglect as those in Maine.
  • Children in the bottom 10 states are 2.8 times as likely to be uninsured as children in the top 10. In Texas, a child is 5 times as likely to be uninsured as a child in Rhode Island.
  • Teens in the bottom 10 states give birth at a rate twice as high as those in the top 10. In Texas, the teen birth rate is 3.5 times that of New Hampshire.

The report also offers recommended action steps:

  • Congressional hearings.
  • Policy positions on children's issues put forward by presidential candidates.
  • A national conference examining disparities in child well-being, to be convened by the new administration.
  • The placement of child well-being on the policy agendas of national associations representing state and local governments.
  • Consideration for review and action on child well-being by the private sector.
  • Deeper review of the issue by scholars and the press.

The Every Child Matters Education Fund uses public education efforts to focus attention on children's issues, including health outcomes, abuse prevention, school systems, tax policies and other concerns, in state-focused campaigns.

NASW previously has collaborated with Every Child Matters to promote its work, including the report Homeland Insecurity? Why Children Must Be a Priority in the 2008 Presidential Campaign and a book examining state-focused statistics on the well-being of children. Both publications were written by Petit.