State needs more forward steps for child well-being


Two steps forward, one step back — that’s what we thought when we saw the results of the annual Kids Count Data Book that rank Arkansas as the 41st state in child well-being.

A year ago, Arkansas moved up two spots from 42nd to 40th, which prompted Gov. Mike Beebe to note the state’s emphasized spending in areas that benefit children, education and health care.

The national report ranks states based on 16 indicators across four domains: economic well-being, education, health and family and community. This year’s Kids Count Data Book shows that although gains in eduction and health care have continued in Arkansas, the rate of child poverty has increased, according to an Arkansas News Bureau report in Tuesday’s edition.

Arkansas’ child poverty rate was 29 percent in 2012, up from 25 percent in 2005, according to the report. The national child poverty rate was 23 percent in 2012, which also was up by four percentage points from the 2005 rate of 19 percent.

In 2012, nearly 16.4 million children were living in poverty in the United States, according to the report. Since the first Kids Count Data Book in 1990, the rate of children growing up in poor communities has increased, with 13 percent of children living in a neighborhood where the poverty rate is 30 percent or more.

“Other states are experiencing similar increases in child poverty, likely due to the depth and severity of the recession,” the nonprofit group Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families stated in a news release.

On the plus side:

• The number of children in Arkansas without insurance is down to an all-time low of 6 percent.

• Child deaths per 1,000 decreased, as did the number of low-birth-weight babies and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.

• More fourth- and eighth-graders are proficient in reading and math, respectively, than they were in 2005.

“These gains show that investments in health programs that help kids — especially ARKids First — have made huge improvements in Arkansas,” AACF stated.

Lawmakers and child welfare advocates nationwide use the Kids Count Data Book to measure the success of their efforts to improve the lives of children and to promote additional improvements. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has issued the report annually since 1990.

“All of us, in every sector — business, government, nonprofits, faith-based groups, families — need to continue to work together to ensure that all children have the chance to succeed,” stated Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “… We simply cannot afford to endanger the futures of the millions of low-income children who don’t have the chance to experience high-quality early childhood programs and the thriving neighborhoods that higher-income families take for granted.”

We continue to hope for a year in which we see improvements in all areas; we want to see two steps forward every year, until all our children are provided the tools they need for success.

— Times Record