COLUMBIA — Missouri ranked at 33 of the 50 states in children's health and well-being, according to Kids Count data released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The annual report tracks categories including teen birth rate, child poverty, infant mortality rate and high school dropout rate.
“I think that is disappointing to see because we certainly want the child well-being within our state to be positive,” said Emily Schwartze, director of programs and policy at Citizens for Missouri’s Children.
The Kids Count report urges the government to change its formula for measuring poverty, strengthen efforts in the 2010 Census to fully count children and minorities, and improve the national vital statistics system to better track data on disadvantaged families. Schwartze said Missouri typically ranks in the mid- to lower-30s in the report.
The government should not cut back on spending for data collection even with the current recession, said Patrick McCarthy, the Casey Foundation’s senior vice president.
“Ensuring that policymakers and managers have the information they need to make critically important decisions can deliver an immense payoff in reduced waste and improved results for children,” he said.
Nationwide, improvements since 2000 are in six categories: infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, high school dropout rate and the rate of teens not in school and not working. Four areas have worsened since 2000: low-birthweight babies, children living in families where no parent has full-time year-round employment, children in poverty and children in single-parent families.
The child poverty rate increased from 17 percent to 18 percent from 2000 to 2007, with 900,000 more children living in poverty since 2000.
In Missouri, there have been improvements from 2000 to 2006-07 data in the areas of child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate and percent of teens who are high school dropouts.
Areas where child well-being is worsening are percent of low-birthweight babies, infant mortality rates and percent of children in poverty.
Nationally, the country is seeing improvements in infant mortality rate and low-birthweight babies, but Missouri has declining trends, Schwartze said.
“I think those are two areas that we want to take notice of and try to improve because we want our youngest children born healthy,” she said.
In 2006, for the first time in 14 years, there was a national increase in the teen birth rate.
Even though data show that from 2000 to 2006 Missouri's teen birth rate improved, numbers from 2005 to 2006 increased. In 2000, there were 49 teen births per every 1,000 females from ages 15-19. That number decreased to 42 in 2005, and went back up to 46 in 2006, Schwartze said.
To improve Missouri's position, Schwartze said it’s important to look at bordering states and to find the best practices in those states that better the lives of those kids.
“It’s difficult to say, 'If Missouri does this, our ranking will improve,'” Schwartze said. “If other states improve, we may not see a dramatic change in our rank.”
There are 150,000 uninsured children in Missouri who do not have health coverage, but 99,000 of them are eligible, Schwartze said.
“Investing in outreach and enrollment methods will allow us to target those kids who are eligible but not enrolled,” she said. “We hope they will grow into a generation of productive citizens for the state.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.