Study shows Montana youth doing better

Montana Health Journal

Report shows Montana makes gains in overall child well-being

Montana Health Journal
Montana has seen a big improvement in state rankings of child well-being, moving up six positions from 30th to 24th in the United States.

That’s according to the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which focuses on key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years. The data book measures child well-being in four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
“This positive change in rankings reflects some real improvements for children in our state,” Thale Dillon, director of Montana KIDS COUNT, said.

Some increases in rank, as well as decreases, are not limited to how Montana is doing, but may be due to another state moving up or falling back, Dillon said. Recent data shows that teens in the United States are making gains in education and health indicators, despite growing up in the midst of the economic downturn, a trend found in Montana and nationwide. The report also reveals trends in the persistence of children living in poverty, a finding that highlights the need for policies that advance two-generation solutions to provide opportunities for all children and families, Dillon said.

In the area of overall health, Montana ranked 39th, the state’s best ranking since the Casey Foundation started its tracking. Driving this improvement are positive trends in three of the four health indicators the data book has documented since 2009.
Since 2010, the number of Montana children and teens who lost their lives is down 35 percent, improving the state’s ranking from 50 to 38. As a result, Montana continues its efforts to increase seat belt use among all age groups and implement prevention programs that focus on suicide, as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
Mirroring national trends, Montana continues to see reduced rates of uninsured children. State and federal programs have worked to move the uninsured rate from 12 percent of Montana children in 2010, to 8 percent in 2014. Nationally, about 6 percent of children do not have health insurance.

During the 2010-11 school year, 10 percent of Montana teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing alcohol or drugs. Each subsequent year, Montana has shown improvement in reduction of percent of  users and national ranking, with the user rate dropping to 6 percent in 2013-14 and ranking decreasing from 50 to 35.
“Given everything we know about how drugs and alcohol impact the developing brain, this is encouraging news,” Dillon said.

Montana’s rank of 24th in the education domain results from higher-than-average graduation rates of 85 percent, tempered by low investment in high-quality early childhood education, according to  Dillon. Montana’s lack of universal pre-Kindergarten education is leaving approximately 15,000 Montana 3- and 4-year-olds without access to high-quality early education, which strongly affects their school readiness and future chances at success, he said.
In the family and community domain, Montana ranked 15th, based on indicators that trend in multiple directions.

The teen birth rate continues its dramatic decline, nationally and in Montana, reaching a new, all-time low of 26 per 1,000 women ages 15-19, although the United States remains the highest among affluent countries. As for the number of children living in high poverty areas, Montana’s trend has been at 7 percent during the past few years.

In the domain of economic well-being, Montana ranked 19th with levels of persistent poverty that follow national trends. Between 2009 and 2014, Montana children living in poverty went from 20 to 19 percent, or approximately 41,000 children. While there has been little change in the percentage of children in poverty, Montana’s rank has improved from 27 to 22, the result of other states falling further behind, causing Montana to move up.

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