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Montana children rank 28th in three health indicators

| August 2, 2012 11:52 AM

Montana children’s well-being ranks better than average in 3-of-4 categories, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2012 National Kids Count Data Book.

This year’s Data Book, the 23rd such report, reflects advances in child-development research since the first Data Book was released in 1990, featuring an improved foundation in its decade-old system of ranking states on their level of child well-being.

Growing from 10 to 16 child-level indicators, the index now features four domains — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community — and offers a more detailed picture of how U.S. children are faring.

Montana’s 28th overall ranking is determined by its rank of 20th in economic well-being, 13th in education, 50th in health and 13th in family and community.

The fact that Montana has improved its ranking in the area of economic well-being since before the recession may come as a surprise to many, according to Thale Dillon, director of Montana Kids Count. 

However, the improvement is relative and is attributed primarily to other states doing substantially worse than Montana, not to Montana doing particularly well.

“Family economic success provides a critical foundation for healthy child development, in turn promoting success in adulthood,” Dillon said.

Likewise, promoting successful educational achievement promotes future success by making it easier to keep children on track to stay in school and graduate. 

The 2012 national Data Book reveals that Montana has not lost ground in terms of fourth-grade reading proficiency or high school students graduating on time, and has actually made gains in eighth-grade math proficiency and increased the share of 3- and 4-year-olds who attend preschool.

According to the report, Montana ranks last in the health domain, despite many positive developments. The state actually has improved its substance-abuse rates among teens, increased the number and percent of children who have health insurance, and decreased the death rate for children and teens. 

But other states have improved much more, thus forcing Montana down in the rankings, Dillon said.

“A child’s health is the foundation for overall development, and being born healthy is the first step toward increasing the life chances of any child,” Dillon said. 

“Poverty, poor nutrition, lack of preventive health care, substance abuse, maternal depression and family violence can all put a child’s health at risk.”

To achieve improved behavior and academic outcomes in children, and ultimately successful adults, families and communities need the human and social resources to properly care for and nurture children in their early years, Dillon said.