Kids Count ranks Vermont second in child well-being

June 25, 2013 in Youth & Education by 802eureka

kidscount2013By Alicia Freese

Vermont children are better off than their counterparts in every state except New Hampshire, according to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey rounded out the top five. Southern and Southwestern states were overrepresented in the lower rungs of the ratings — South Carolina, Louisiana, Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico had the worst scores.

“Clearly, we are better off than a lot of places in the country,” said Sarah Teele, a research associate for Voices for Vermont’s Children. But Teele also pointed to the importance of looking beyond the rankings to the raw numbers.

The Kids Count Data Book, an annual publication released Monday, breaks the ratings down into four categories — economic well being, education, health, family and community — each of which are judged based on four indicators. Vermont ranked lowest in the economic category, where it came in at ninth place. It finished in the top five in the other three categories.

The report shows 15 percent of the state’s children were living in poverty in 2011 (the most recent year for which data was available) — that amounts to about 18,000 kids. That’s below the national average of 23 percent, but when it comes to child poverty, “there is no acceptable level,” Teele said.

The child poverty rate in Vermont peaked at 17 percent in 2010 (up from 13 percent in 2007). Whereas Vermont saw a slight improvement from 2010 to 2011, the national child poverty rate ticked up another percentage point during the same time frame.

The report only looks at cash income and does not take into account forms of state or federal assistance, such as tax credits, child care or food stamps.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement that Vermont shouldn’t be content with its second place. “I am extremely proud that Vermont has improved its childhood wellness ranking for three straight years. … But we can’t be satisfied; Vermont should lead the nation in ensuring that all children have the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives.”

Shumlin also pointed to several of his legislative endeavors, which, he said, will further boost child well-being in the state. Among them was legislation that provides free school lunch for low-income children who previously only received a discount, a slight increase in state funding for pre-kindergarten (a bill that would have expanded pre-K access to a much greater degree did not pass last session), and investments in heating fuel assistance for low-income Vermonters.

Teele said the state needs to commit to making sure all qualified families are receiving 3SquaresVT, the state’s food assistance program, and expanding health insurance to the small number of children that aren’t covered currently. According to the report, only 2 percent, or 3,000, of the state’s children don’t have health insurance. That’s down from 5,000 in 2008.

In a statement released in response to the report, Carlen Finn, the executive director for Voices for Vermont’s Children, noted that while Vermont ranks high in the U.S., the nation trails other developed countries.

“It’s important to contextualize …read more

From: Life in Vermont