How can we make Utah the best state in the nation to be a kid?

01 August 2014 Written by  

kids-count-profileThe 2014 KIDS COUNT rankings of child well-being are out. Utah is currently ranked #11. Reference A Eleven is a reasonably good ranking. We didn’t make the top ten but we are doing better than lots of other states. It is nice to see that we are finally moving upward in the rankings after dropping for five consecutive years between 2009 and 2013. Reference B

But is “reasonably good” the best we can offer Utah children?  Shouldn’t we make Utah the best place in the nation to be a kid?  Why isn’t Utah number one for child well-being? What would it take to get there?

In 2013, when Utah received its lowest child well-being ranking of the decade, Terry Haven, the Voices for Utah Children Deputy Director, investigated the source of the decline. She found that the problem was not necessarily that Utah kids were faring worse than they were in 2009, when Utah ranked #3, but that other states were progressing in ways that left Utah behind.  “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.” Reference C

high-school-graduationA closer look at Utah’s weakest KIDS COUNT domain, education, illustrates how we fall behind when we fail to progress. High school graduation rates have been on the rise nationally; only 19% of American students didn’t graduate on time in 2011-2012, compared to 27% of students in 2005-2006.  During that same time period, Utah worsened slightly from 21% not graduating in 2005-2006 to 22% in 2011-2012. Reference A Today, Utah graduation rates are below the national average. 

Utah also trails behind the national average in another education domain indicator: preschool enrollment. Sixty percent of Utah three and four-year olds did not attend preschool in 2010-2012, compared to 54% nationally. The Casey Foundation reports that “the research is unequivocal that high-quality early childhood programs...are essential for building a strong educational foundation for low-income children and narrowing the achievement gap.”  Reference A 

Utah kids are disadvantaged compared to their peers nationally in health insurance coverage.  Only 7% of children nationwide lacked health insurance in 2012 but 10% of Utah children were uninsured.  In 21 states, the percentage of children without health insurance was 5% or less.  Reference A 

Currently, Utah exceeds or ties with achievement nationally in all of the indicators in the Economic Well-being domain, but the results for every economic indicator worsened in Utah between 2005-2008 and 2012.

climbing to number 1 smallerHaven noted ways that states that outperform Utah in the KIDS COUNT rankings are protecting their children:  “Quality preschool for at-risk kids, enthusiastic outreach efforts to enroll eligible kids in CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and Medicaid, state EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) programs.”  Reference C KIDS COUNT calculated the number of children Utah would need to help to rise to number one in the rankings. We know what we need to do. Do we have the will to do it?

View or download the complete Utah KIDS COUNT profile, with results for 16 indicators of child well-being.




April Young Bennett 300April Young Bennett, Communications Director, joined the organization in 2014. She received her Master of Public Administration from the University of Arizona and her Bachelor in Community Health Education from Utah State University. Prior to joining Voices for Utah Children, April worked for the Utah Department of Health for over a decade, addressing health disparities among minorities and other underserved Utahns. She completed internships and fellowships with the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and the U.S. Senate.