Child Care

We are pleased to announce that the Annie E. Casey Foundation has released the 2021 Kids Count Data Book.
Access the book today at www.aecf.org/databook

Background

For 15 years it has been the priority of the Utah KIDS COUNT Project to ensure that policymakers, advocates, community service providers, the media, and concerned citizens have quality data on how children are doing in our state. These yearly publications provide county level data on a variety of child well-being indicators.Utah showed strong gains in key indicators of child well-being from 2010 to 2019, according to the 2021 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report on child well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how children are doing in four domains encompassing 16 child well-being indicators.

Summary of the 2021 Utah Kids Count Data 

This year’s Data Book shows nearly a decade of progress in all but two of the indicators.

Troublesome indicators appear in the Health domain as low birth-weight babies and child and teen death rates both saw increases over the decade. The percentage of babies born at low birth weight rose from 7.0% in 2010 to 7.4% in 2019, a 6% increase; Utah fell in the national rankings from 12th to13th in this indicator. Similarly, the child and teen death rate rose from 24 deaths per 100,000 children in 2010 to 26 in 2019, an 8% increase. Utah fell in the rankings for this indicator from 14th to 24th.

While Utah showed improvement in most areas of child well-being over the last decade, when comparing 2020 data to 2021 data our rankings from last year fell in all but one category:

- Overall ranking fell from 4th to 5th

- Economic Well-Being fell from 2nd to 5th

- Health ranking fell from 13th to 18th

- Family and Community fell from 1st to 2nd

- Education remained the same at 10th

“The bad news is Utah is not keeping pace with the states that continue to improve,” said Terry Haven, deputy director of Voices for Utah Children, Utah’s member of the KIDS COUNT network.
“The good news is it wouldn’t take much to help our rankings start trending upward again. For example, if Utah wanted to rank number one in percentage of low birth-weight babies, it would only have to reduce the number by 532 babies.”

Impact of the Pandemic on Utah Kids

Sixteen indicators measuring four domains — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community context — are used by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in each year’s Data Book to assess child well-being. The annual KIDS COUNT data and rankings represent the most recent information available but do not capture the impact of the past year:

ECONOMIC WELL-BEING: In 2019, 91,000 children lived in households with an income below the poverty line. Nationally, Utah is praised for its economic success, but Utah families continue to face rapidly increasing housing costs. Utah ranked 10th in 2018 for children living in households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and the state dropped to 17th in 2019. With the current housing prices in Utah, it is quite possible this trend will get worse.

EDUCATION: In 2019, Utah education ranking held steady at 10th in the nation. However, Utah’s early education numbers still lag behind much of the country with close to 60% of 3- and 4-year olds not attending school. Utah ranks in the bottom third of states for this indicator.

AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE: In 2019, 82,000 children in Utah did not have health insurance. The state made an effort to provide all children in Utah with health insurance through the passage of legislation. While the bill was enacted, not enough funding was appropriated to cover all kids. Utah continues to rank 41st in the nation for uninsured children.

FAMILY AND COMMUNITY CONTEXT: Utah has consistently ranked first in the category but fell a bit in 2019 to second. Utah did make improvements in the number of children in single-parent families. In 2018, Utah had 174,000 children in single-parent families but in 2019, the number dropped to 168,000 children.

Let's Continue to #InvestInUtahKids

Investing in children, families and communities is a priority to ensure an equitable and expansive recovery. Several of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s suggestions have already been enacted in the American Rescue Plan, and additional recommendations include:

  1. Congress should make the expansion of the child tax credit permanent. The child tax credit has long had bipartisan support, so lawmakers should find common cause and ensure the largest one-year drop ever in child poverty is not followed by a surge.
  2. State and local governments should prioritize the recovery of hard-hit communities of color.
  3. States should expand income support that helps families care for their children. Permanently extending unemployment insurance eligibility to contract, gig and other workers and expanding state tax credits would benefit parents and children.
  4. States that have not done so should expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The American Rescue Plan offers incentives to do so.
  5. States should strengthen public schools and pathways to postsecondary education and training.

Release Information

The 2021 KIDS COUNT® Data Book is available at https://www.aecf.org/resources/2021-kids-count-data-book. Journalists interested in creating maps, graphs and rankings in stories about the Data Book can use the KIDS COUNT Data Center at datacenter.kidscount.org.                                                                             

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For years, advocates (like me) have avoided mentioning the fact – at least, in the presence of legislators – that Utah families rely on school not just for education, but also for reliable and high quality child care. 

Similarly, until very recently, many Utah policymakers were ignorant of the fact that child care – especially for infants, toddlers and pre-school aged children – is possibly the most critical education Utah families will ever invest in. 

COVID-19 has made all this denial of reality much more difficult.

Right now, education administrators throughout the state are wondering how they could manage to implement a “staggered schedule” in their schools, when doing so would mean that teachers with school-aged children would require paid child care for half the workweek.

Parents working from home are realizing how much personal attention and educational interaction their children are able to receive in child care settings while they are working. Perhaps initially thrilled to save money on child care expenses, they are gaining renewed (perhaps desperate) appreciation for the intense, valuable work performed by their child care providers. 

Families throughout the state are struggling with a diminished roster of summer camps, summer programs and summers schools. They are wondering how they are going to manage the cost of additional hours of child care that may be necessary in the fall, depending on how individual school districts choose to “re-open” their schools.

Utah families and educators are all re-learning, under great pandemic-driven duress, something that has been the truth for decades: school is child care, and child care is school. 

In Utah, about 47% of all kids under age six, who are living with both parents, have both of those parents in the workforce.* Among kids between 6 and 17, who are living with both parents, that number jumps to 57%.* That increase represents a lot of Utah parents, going back to work, as soon as their young kids are able to attend kindergarten. 

More than 54,000 children under the age of six live with only one parent.* For 83% of those young children, the single parent they live with is in the workforce.* Among kids between 6 and 17, who are living with only one parent, that number jumps to 98%.* Again, that increase represents a lot of Utah parents, going back to work, as soon as their young kids are able to head off to public school. 

The vast majority of Utah parents  appreciate that for six or seven hours a day, five days a week, for around 36 weeks out of the year, they are able to put their children in the care of trained professionals, in a relatively safe environment, at little or no cost to their family. 

Their children are being educated in all manner of subjects, and they are learning to socialize with other children from different families and backgrounds. They also are under the watchful eye of educators acting “in loco parentis,” a common law principle that empowers educators to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent during school hours and activities. 

This all-encompassing educational and social experience is provided to Utah families largely for free – by law – because primary education is regarded generally as a public good. Ensuring that all people receive a basic level of education, regardless of their ability to pay for it otherwise, is good for all of us. Public education advances important goals like equal opportunity, work force preparation and an educated populace. 

Most Utah parents feel comfortable reading, writing, doing basic math, socializing with other people, finding (some) foreign countries on a map, and playing sports. But, as the pandemic lockdown has reminded so many, not all Utah parents feel qualified to be primarily responsible for teaching their children how to do all those things. No wonder fewer than 5% of school-aged children in Utah are homeschooled.** 

It just so happens that public education also provides hundreds of hours of free, high-quality child care to Utah families while accomplishing those important societal goals. School is many things, and yes, it is also child care. 

The more we learn about the incredible amount of brain development that occurs in early childhood, the stranger it seems that we, as a society, are still unwilling to acknowledge the reverse: child care is many things, and yes, it is also school.

Many Utah policymakers and elected officials still insist that “child care is a family issue” that should be left up to families to figure out. Families with young children are expected to either care for their children all day, or find someone else to do it for them. Under this model, all the inconvenience, confusion and cost associated with child care fall on individual families.

But our demographics show that this approach is painfully outdated. 

Nearly 54% of all Utah children under age six live in a household with all available parents working. The parents of those children are not in a position to fulfill all the responsibilities of teaching, socializing, reading and playing with their children. Those families need the support of child care professionals who, in addition to providing a safe and caring environment for children while their parents are working, are also teaching, socializing, reading and playing with those children. 

Unlike public school, however, there is an enormous cost associated with this invaluable service. Subsidies are only available to those Utah families making the least amount of money, while almost all Utah families (of any income level) struggle to afford the cost of child care for infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children. 

Most families can’t homeschool their school-aged children, because they work outside the home (or inside the home for many due to COVID19). Most families also can’t pay for private school, because they don’t make enough money from their work outside the home. Luckily, public school is available for all those families. 

Most families can’t stay home to care for and teach their infant, toddler and pre-school aged children, because they work outside the home. Yet, we still expect them to pay for child care, even when they don’t make enough money from their work outside the home to afford the early care and education their children deserve. 

We need to stop tip-toeing around the fact that Utah families rely on school not just for education, but for safe and highly-effective child care. We need to embrace it. At the same time, we need to embrace the reverse truth: that safe, high-quality childcare is also the equivalent of “school” for young children. 

Safe, effective, high-quality care and education for Utah children of all ages is a public good. Treating child care and public education as part of the same important system of learning and development will create enormous benefit for these children, and, by extension, the rest of the state. 

* Figures from the 2018 American Community Survey, accessed at data.census.gov

** Calculated from data made available by the Utah State Board of Education on homeschooled children and public school enrollment in the 2015-16 school year (the most recent data reported on the USBE website at https://www.schools.utah.gov/data/reports?mid=1424&tid=4).

Special thanks to Erin Jemison, formerly of YWCA Utah and now with Community Resources for Justice's Crime & Justice Institute, for contributions to this post. 

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