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Only 4 states are worse than Alabama for child well-being, KIDS COUNT report says

AL.com logo AL.com 8/8/2022 Mike Cason, al.com
Students work during class at Sherwood Elementary School in Phenix City. The Alabama Education Lab identified Sherwood Elementary as one of 43 "high flyer" schools that were making the most of limited resources and helping more students succeed. © Trisha Crain/al.com/TNS Students work during class at Sherwood Elementary School in Phenix City. The Alabama Education Lab identified Sherwood Elementary as one of 43 "high flyer" schools that were making the most of limited resources and helping more students succeed.

An annual report that tracks statistical indicators on the well-being of children shows Alabama trailing the national numbers in most categories and ranking near the bottom overall.

The 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranks Alabama 46th overall. The report compares 16 indicators over four categories – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Alabama’s ranking is similar to previous years and up one notch from last year’s report. Alabama ranked ahead of only Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Mexico. Massachusetts led this year’s rankings.

Rhonda Mann, interim executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children, said the statistics raise questions about why the state fares poorly in many areas. Alabama improved in 11 of the 16 categories. But in four of those categories, that improvement fell short of gains in other states.

“It is disappointing to see the well-being of Alabama’s children continue to lag behind other states despite the state making critical gains for our children,” Mann said in a news release. “We know it is easier to focus on rankings. However, regardless if we jumped ahead one or two spots, or fell backwards, it’s more important to ask why children in our state are faring this way, and what it will take to improve their well-being. Behind every number in this report is a child.”

Students work during class at Sherwood Elementary School in Phenix City, which was identified as a high flyer school by an Alabama Education Lab analysis. Trisha Powell Crain/AL.com. © Trisha Crain/al.com/TNS Students work during class at Sherwood Elementary School in Phenix City, which was identified as a high flyer school by an Alabama Education Lab analysis. Trisha Powell Crain/AL.com.

VOICES for Alabama’s Children is the Annie E. Casey KIDS COUNT grantee in Alabama.

From a national perspective, the report says children are struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 200,000 children have lost a parent or primary caregiver to the virus, which has killed more than one million Americans.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health in a child’s ability to thrive,” said Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “As our nation continues to navigate the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, policymakers must do more to ensure all kids have access to the care and support they need to cope and live full lives.”

In Alabama, the Legislature approved funding for a mental health services coordinator in every school district, part of an increased emphasis on mental health care at schools. VOICES said the state needs to continue expanding access to mental health care for children.

Related: What did the Alabama legislature do for schools and kids in 2022?

Nationally, there were improvements in the economic well-being indicators. Fewer children were living in poverty, more parents were employed and fewer families were spending a disproportionate amount of their income on housing costs. Still, in 2016–20, one in six children lived in poverty.

More children had access to health insurance coverage. But other indicators in the health category did not improve. The percentage of babies born with low birth weights, the percentage of children and teens who were overweight and obese, and the child and teen death rate increased.

In the family and community category, the teen birth rate continued a decline that started in 2007. Fewer children lived with parents who lacked a high school diploma. And fewer children lived in high-poverty communities.

The breakdowns of the four main categories in the report show that Alabama ranked 40th in economic well-being, 42nd in education, 47th in health, and 45th in family and community.

Alabama led the nation in the percentage of high school students graduating on time. Only 8 percent of Alabama students did not graduate on time in 2018-2019, compared to the national rate of 14 percent.

Alabama ranked in the top five in the percentage of children with health insurance. Only 3 percent of Alabama children were without health insurance from 2016-2020. Nationally, 5 percent of children were uninsured during those years.

Alabama ranked in the bottom three in fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade math, and the percentage of babies born with low weights.

The report showed 72 percent of Alabama fourth-graders were not proficient in reading in 2019, compared to 66 percent of fourth-graders nationally. In math, 79 percent of Alabama’s eighth-graders were not proficient in 2019, while 67 percent of eighth graders nationally were not proficient.

Related: Alabama’s dead-last test scores wake-up call for officials

Alabama lawmakers passed a bill this year to increase the focus on teaching math in kindergarten through fifth grade. The bill, called the Numeracy Act, is similar to the Literacy Act passed a few years ago, which focuses on reading instruction in the earliest grades. Both laws are intended to put more people and resources into helping struggling students before they get too far behind academically.

Overall in the KIDS COUNT report, Alabama showed improvement in 11 of the categories compared to the previous years, did worse in three, and fared the same in two others. The categories where Alabama did worse:

  • Percentage of low birth-weight babies, 10.8 percent in 2020.
  • Child and teen deaths per 100,000, 38 in 2020.
  • Ages 10-17 who are overweight or obese, 37 percent in 2019-2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted some data sources used to compile the annual KIDS COUNT report. In some categories, the foundation relied on five-year estimates from 2016 through 2020. The report uses 2019 data for fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math. The high school graduation data rankings are based on the 2018-2019 school year.

Read the KIDS COUNT Alabama data profile.

Read the 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit al.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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