Child stats good news
For the first time in more than 20 years, Alabama was not ranked in the bottom five states for child well-being — a statistic that Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County chairwoman Ruth Harrell was celebrating this week.
“It’s wonderful,” Harrell said.
Alabama rose to 44th, making improvements in health and education. The state was ranked 35th in health, a stat Harrell said was “incredible.”
She credited the state’s health insurance program for children, AllKids, as well as work by advocacy groups with the improvement.
“We were the first state in the country” to develop a children’s health insurance program, Harrell said. “Now we are reaping the benefits.”
Other benefits include smoking bans and programs like WIC, which help make sure children get adequate nutrition.
“In our county, passage of smoke-fee ordinances has really lowered the incidence of childhood asthma,” Harrell said. “I hope in my lifetime we will pass a statewide smoking ban.”
Alabama improved in all four health indicators tracked by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count report: low-birthweight babies, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths, and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.
The state also improved in all four education indicators: children not attending pre-school, fourth graders not proficient in reading, eighth graders not proficient in math and high school students not graduating on time.
Harrell said she expects those numbers to improve in the future after greater investment in education this year.
“The state included $12.5 million for pre-K in the office of school readiness,” she said. “It does affect overall health. It gives them a healthier attitude.”
But economic indicators all worsened or were unchanged, with 28 percent of children living in poverty in 2011, compared to 25 percent in 2005. Thirty-five percent of children had parents who lacked secure employment in 2011, compared to 30 percent in 2008.
The state’s family and community rankings were mixed, with the number of children in single-parent families increasing and the number of children living in high-poverty areas increasing as well. But the number of children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma improved, and the number of teen births was lower.