Kansas slips in measure of child well-being

Kansas showed the largest slippage in child well-being in a national study published Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The study found that child poverty increased in 38 states from 2000 to 2009. Kansas was among them, but it managed to stay above the national average.

However, Kansas dropped to 40th in the country in infant mortality, and to worst in the nation for African-American infant mortality, said Christie Appelhanz, vice president of public affairs of Kansas Action for Children in Topeka.

"Because of the nature of the data, some if it lags behind, and I think the recession hit the hardest on the coasts and now it's making its way to Kansas," Appelhanz said.

According to the report, 14.7 million children in the United States, 20 percent, were poor in 2009. That represents a 2.5 million increase from 2000, when 17 percent of the nation's youth lived in low-income homes.

In Kansas, the number of children in poverty increased from 100,000 (15 percent) in 2008 to 121,000 (18 percent) in 2009.

"I think the recession is really taking its toll on Kansas kids," Appelhanz said. "What stood out to me is we have nearly one in five Kansas kids living in poverty. Is this the road we want to travel?"

Reducing child poverty is one of five goals in Gov. Sam Brownback's "roadmap for Kansas," and Appelhanz said, "This data shows how important it is to do that."

"We have to invest in our kids. We need to be protecting the crucial supports — nutrition, early education, college savings — anything we can do to be sure kids are growing up" healthy.

"I think it's important that children have access to food stamps, quality education such as Head Start and Early Head Start" and workforce development.

The rankings are determined by a state's achievement in 10 indicators that reflect child poverty, such as undernourished infants, infant mortality, teen births and children in single-parent families. The top state for children was New Hampshire, just ahead of Minnesota, Massachusetts and Vermont.

The states with the largest changes were Kansas, which slipped from 13 to 19, and South Dakota, which improved from 26 to 21.

In other areas of the report, Kansas saw increases from 2008 to 2009 in:

* The number of children in single-parent families, from 187,000 (28 percent) to 202,000 (30 percent).

* The number of children living in a family where no one has a full-time, year-round job, from 151,000 (22 percent) to 175,000 (25 percent).

* The number of teens ages 16 to 19 not attending school and not working, from 8,000 (5 percent) to 11,000 (7 percent).

Kansas ranked in the top 10 in the nation in those last two categories.

The infant mortality rate in Kansas was 7.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007, the most recent year in which data is available for all 50 states, Kansas Action for Children said. That put Kansas 40th in the country, Appelhanz said, and last for African-American infant mortality.

"We don't know exactly why," she said, but efforts should be increased to encourage prenatal care and safe-sleep practices and to help mothers stop substance abuse and tobacco use.

The annual report is based on data from many sources, including the Mortgage Bankers Association, National Delinquency Survey and U.S. Census Bureau.

Mississippi kept its overall last-place ranking in child welfare for the 10th consecutive year, according to the survey. It was closely trailed by neighboring Louisiana and Alabama. Nevada ranked 40th overall, its worst ranking in 10 years, largely because of its economic decline.

Programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance and foreclosure mediation have acted like a dam against the flood of poverty, said Patrick McCarthy, president of the Baltimore, Md.-based foundation, but that assistance has been threatened by federal and state government budget cuts.

Nevada saw the largest rates of children living with at least one unemployed parent, followed by Rhode Island, Oregon and Kentucky. North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota had the best rates.

Overall, the percent of children living in families in which no parent had full-time employment increased from 27 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2009. Black children were nearly twice as likely as white children to have an unemployed parent.