Let’s Put Kids First Too

08 July 2013 Written by  

While Utah is being touted as the best in the U.S. in economic circles, its ranking in child well-being is slowly eroding. The newly released KIDS COUNT Data Book shows Utah dropped once again in child well-being from 11th to 14th.

Each year the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks the states on 16 indicators of child well-being: four indicators in each of the areas of Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community. Utah’s No. 2 ranking in Family and Community was its best, while it dropped three spots in Education and now ranks 30th in that category. Utah also ranked 14th in Health and 11th in Economic Well Being. Utah dropped three spots in overall ranking and was among only 17 states that dropped in ranking. Utah, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Alaska experienced the largest drops in their rankings.

While Utah’s economic growth and prosperity should be applauded, it is unfortunately not translating into improvements for our most vulnerable population, Utah’s children. Forbes magazine ranks Utah the best state for business for a third straight year, and ALEC ranks Utah No. 1 for economic outlook. However, Utah ranks 51st in a recent report by Wider Opportunities for Women, which grades state-level policies on their potential to improve the economic security of workers, families, and retirees.

We are not seeing significant changes in our indicators. But, what we are seeing is other states making much needed investments in children – and reaping the benefits. The new report emphasizes that early intervention and two-generational strategies are the roadmap for improving child well-being.

I called and talked to the top five ranked states in the report: New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey. I asked my KIDS COUNT counterparts in those states what policies and programs they thought were keeping them in the top 5. Without fail, several policies kept reoccurring. Quality preschool for at-risk kids, enthusiastic outreach efforts to enroll eligible kids in CHIP and Medicaid, state EITC programs; all programs that Voices for Utah Children has fought for and will continue to encourage our legislators to adopt.

Utah leaders will be discussing these policies during the next legislative session, including recommendations from the newly formed Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission and the Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee. Their decisions will be crucial if Utah wants to improve their ranking and once again claim a spot in the top five best states for child well-being in the country.

Economic development is all well and good, but it only goes so far. We need to value our children as much as we value our businesses. Children are 33 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future. I encourage our leaders to use the high-quality data and trend analysis in KIDS COUNT to enrich the discussion concerning ways to secure better futures for all children and to raise the visibility of children’s issues through an evidenced based lens.

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Terry Haven 300Terry Haven, Deputy Director, joined the organization in 1996. She researches and publishes the annual Utah KIDS COUNT data book that reports on the well-being of Utah's children by county. She analyzes U.S Census data and provides data support for all Voices issue areas. She also conducts trainings and provides technical assistance on data work for community groups. Terry is the point person at Voices for our work on Intergenerational Poverty and two-generation strategies for moving children and their families out of poverty. This includes working with the Intergenerational Poverty Commission Research Subcommittee and focusing on chronic absence.Terry works with a number of national partners including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ascend Fund at the Aspen Institute, and Attendance Works to help further the mission of Voices for Utah Children. Her academic background is in sociology, with a Bachelors degree and Masters degree from the University of Wyoming.