How Does Texas Rank for Child Wellbeing, Plus News for the Week

How Does Texas Rank for Child Wellbeing, Plus News for the Week
7/30/2010 4:10:54 PM
If you have followed the news on kids this week, you might have heard by now that the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual rankings of child wellbeing in the states, The 2010 KIDS COUNT Data Book. Once again, Texas performed worse than most other states. Our partners and friends at the Center for Public Policy Priorities coordinate the data for Texas, and I got to attend the release event Tuesday. Some important lessons lie in both Dr. Frances Deviney's presentation and the larger report.

First, although virtually unnoticed by the media, some of the most disheartening data involves the youngest Texans, as we continue to see a sharp decline in infant health. While the nation as a whole brought down its infant mortality rate from 2000 to 2007, in Texas more babies have been losing their lives. Our infant mortality rate rose 11%, so that 6 out every 1,000 newborns do not make it to their first birthday. We have also seen a sharper jump than the rest of the country in the rate of babies born at a dangerously low birthweight. These findings have not escaped the notice of our Texas Infant Health Alliance, which has a full agenda for improving early health to take to the 82nd Legislature. (More details will be coming in our next e-newsletter, or contact us to learn more.)

Second, where we have improved, significantly, is in preventing teen deaths. From 2000 to 2007, deaths among youth between the ages of 16 and 19, fell 17% in Texas (compared to only a 7% drop nationwide). After infant mortality, this was the biggest data trend divergence between Texas and the country. What do you suppose is the #1 killer of teenagers just starting to drive? Traffic fatalities, of course. Fortunately, in 2001, Texas passed a "graduated driver law,” and, soon after, more Texas schools began implementing proven-effective, peer-to-peer safe driving programs. The end result? Texas became the state with the best record in the country for reducing teen traffic deaths—something to remember the next time someone tries to tell you laws or publicly funded programs can't make much of a difference.

Although most media coverage, led off with the ranking itself—Texas ranks 34th on KIDS COUNT's 10-point child wellbeing index—we didn't hear much about what makes up the index…or what doesn't. The 10 key indicators of wellbeing for KIDS COUNT leave out some important factors to children's success, like access to health coverage, mental health supports or quality child care and food security, juvenile incarceration rates, foster child outcomes, and more. In 2008, the Every Child Matters Foundation published, Geography Matters, another report ranking states' child wellbeing on 10 key indicators. That report came up with an even worse result for Texas: 45th overall. Both Geography Matters and KIDS COUNT used data related to mortality rates (infant, child, and teen), the teen birth rate, and child poverty, but ECM considered juvenile incarceration rates, child abuse fatalities, child welfare spending, health coverage, and mothers' access to prenatal care—which are not on KIDS COUNT's index. Below is more information about what is key in KIDS COUNT's rankings, but I bring up the other report for added perspective. Perhaps the most appropriate index for assessing something as massive as the wellbeing of our children won't fit neatly in a 10-point box; still, we as advocates must continue to make the case for improving the lives of Texas kids, whom we know trail the nation's.

Here are some other lessons from this week's report:

  • Children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment: For all the talk of Texas out-performing the nation when it comes to preventing joblessness, it's worth noticing that 26% of Texas kids, over 1.7 million, don't have a parent with full-time, year-round work. That is about the same rate as the nation as a whole (27%).
  • Children in single-parent families: We started the decade with the same percentage of children in this category as the national rate. Since then, Texas's rate of single-parent families has climbed faster than the national average, up 6% (double the rate of increase nationwide). Today 1 in every 3 Texas kids grows up in a single-parent home. Single parents also have fewer income-earners in the home, one of several contributors to Texas having the nation's seventh highest child poverty rate.
  • Teen birth rate: We have been less effective than other states at bringing down our teen birth rate: Texas has the nation's third highest rate of births to girls ages 15-19. And because pregnant teens represent one of the populations least likely to seek and receive prenatal care, this finding relates to the earlier disheartening news about infant health.
  • Teens not in school and not high school graduates, and teens not in school and not working: These are two of the 10 key indicators in the report, and both seem problematic, as they must rely on highly controversial data pertaining to dropout rates. Dr. Deviney made the point, though, that across the differing assessments of state dropout rates, the rate appears to be dropping over the past decade, nationally and in Texas. The problem is that TEA's own data showed 29% of freshmen from the class of 2009 somehow disappeared by stage-walking time their senior year. So even if somewhat fewer children are dropping out today, by no means can we rest on our laurels.

Many thanks to CPPP and the Annie E. Casey Foundation for this important addition to the discussion about how Texas kids fare—and how we as a state must improve.

News and Reports Weekly Round-Up

Child and Maternal Health

7.30.10 Should the State Pay Hospitals that Wait to Induce Labor? (The Texas Tribune)

7.28.10 Editorial: DISD Makes a Healthy Food Choice (Dallas Morning News)

7.27.10 Texas Ranks 48th in Teen Birth Rate (Associated Press)

7.27.10 Texas Battles New Health Law Even as It Follows It (New York Times)

7.27.10 Study: Wait Times Drop in Texas Emergency Rooms (The Texas Tribune)

7.26.10 A Crucial Time for Federal-State Child Programs: Make Your Voice Heard on FMAP Now (Voices for America's Children)

More Health News...

Child Protection

7.29.10 Silent Suffering: Child Abuse – The Greater Concho Valley Area Averaged More Cases than the State (San Angelo Standard Times)

More Protection News...

Family Financial Security Headlines
7.28.10 Removing One of the Root Causes of Poverty (State of the Children blog)

7.28.10 The Recession Generation: Preventing Long-term Damage from Child Poverty and Young Adult Joblessness(Coalition on Human Needs)

7.27.10 Policing Main Street: The Poor Also Need Protecting (Newsweek)

7.26.10 Dropout Statistics Under Fire (San Antonio Express-News)

7.25.10 With Payday Loans, Poor Get the Loans, Firms Get the Payday (Dallas Morning News)

More Financial Security News...

Juvenile Justice Headlines

7.29.10 New Reports and Resources Digest (Texas Juvenile Justice Roundtable)

7.28.10 Event Saturday, July 31 - Youth Rights in Texas: Sensible School Discipline (ACLU of Texas)

7.27.10 ACLU Sues County, Embattled JP Over Truancy Jailings (The [Hidalgo County] Monitor)

More Juvenile Justice News…

Child Mental Wellbeing Headlines

7.30.10 ADHD Linked to ‘Western Diet' of Takeout, Fried Food, and Candy (AOL News)

7.27.10 Insomnia, Sleep Medications Common in Children with Mental Health Problems (Boston Globe)

7.24.10 Mental Health Cuts Could Be Disastrous (Houston Chronicle)

More Mental Health News...

More About Kids

7.28.10 Impact of Child Obesity Goes Beyond Health (NPR)

7.27.10 Texas 34th in Child Well-Being, New Data Show (The Texas Tribune)

7.26.10 For Child Farmworkers, Lives of Poverty and Danger (Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity)

7.26.10 Shortchanging Child Care: A Series of Reports (News8Austin)

More News About Kids…


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