Missouri drops one slot in the well-being for children

Friday, July 26, 2013 | 2:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missouri fell one spot this year on the annual list of states that tracks child well-being.

The 2013 Kids Count Data Book, developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranks the well-being of children as a composite of four areas —  economic well-being, physical health, educational opportunities and stability of family and community.

To come up with the composite score, Kids Count looks at 16 indicators, including the number of children in poverty and single parent households; how many children live without health insurance; how many fourth graders are not proficient in reading; and how many teens have left school.

Overall, Missouri now ranks at the No. 27 spot, down from No. 26.

"We want to raise the visibility of children's issues on the national agenda," said Laura Speer, author and coordinator of the report, in an email.

"We believe it's important that decision makers have access to quality, non-biased data and information on which to base their decisions that affect the lives of children and families."

How Missouri scores

  • Education: Missouri moved from No. 24 to No. 21, passing Rhode Island, Delaware and South Dakota, which ranked ahead of Missouri in 2012. This domain looks at the number of children attending preschool, proficiency in reading and math and graduation data. In all four of those indicators, Missouri improved its standing.
  • Health: Missouri continues to rank low at No. 32, only one place better than last year. The state rank in health is based on birthweight, health insurance, deaths and drug and alcohol abuse. For Missouri, the number of low-birth weight babies increased, while the number of children without health insurance remained unchanged.
  • Family and community: The state also moved up to No. 26 in the nation. The family and community category is determined by social and cultural factors such as safety, schools and support services. Missouri ranked 27th last year. The number of single parent families and children living in high-poverty areas grew, making the state's score harder to improve.
  • Economic well-being: Missouri fell from 21 to 22. The poverty rate rose to 23 percent from 19 percent, indicating an increase of 3 million children. As of 2011, children whose parents couldn't rely on secure employment has risen from 27 percent to 32 percent since 2008.

"These are indicators that will have a long-term impact on kids," Speer said.

Boone County's standing

The Partnership for Children in Kansas City has created a similar composite index for each county based on economic well-being, health and education. The group's mission is to keep child needs at the top of the priority list for the state, according to a statement in the report.

Instead of focusing on family and community, however, this index ranks counties based on child protection and safety, which measures death, neglect and abuse.

Boone County ranked No. 8 in 2012 compared to the 113 other counties in the state and St. Louis City. Last year, the county ranked seventh, according to the previous report. The 2013 rankings won't be released until 2014.

The Partnership for Children collects data from state agencies found through MU's Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis. This data indicates how state legislation, business decisions and community programs affect the well-being of children. 

"It's something we live by," said Charron Townsend, president of The Partnership for Children. "We want to educate our folks on where our kids are and where we want to be."

"Children are 25 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future," Townsend said. "We need to make sure everything we're doing has positive outcomes on behalf of our kids."

The data compares information from the current year to 2007, the base year. Boone County's latest ranking reflects a decline in two areas.

Between 2007 and 2011, the number of students enrolled in free or reduced price lunches increased from 6,315 to 8,032, a change of 7 percent, according to the report.

During the same period, the percentage of children enrolled in the program rose 14 percent in the state.

The county's out-of-home placement entries also worsened, going from 91 to 114 per 1,000 children, a 25 percent change. These entries represent the number of confirmed neglected children living in immediate risk environments, the report said.

For all other indicators, Boone County showed improvement, mostly gains in education. Both the number of births to teens between the ages of 15 and 19 and the number of annual high school dropouts decreased, according to the report.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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