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Southwest, South score low on child-welfare index

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Several states in the Deep South and Southwest have earned dismal scores on an annual child-welfare index that cited poverty and single-parent house households as worrisome trends that must be turned around for things to improve.

Mississippi was rated the worst state for overall child well-being, largely because of rising child poverty. It was the second time in three years the state has come in last in rankings complied in the Kids Count Data Book. New Mexico, Nevada, Louisiana and Arizona round out the bottom five states.

The study released Tuesday marks the 25th edition of the child well-being scorecard from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a child advocacy group.

It ranks states based on 16 indicators of child welfare in areas of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

The good news, the foundation's report indicated, is that nationally there has been steady improvement in the number of children attending preschool and a decline in the number of kids who aren't proficient in reading and math.

Tennessee was one of five states that showed the biggest improvements in the last year, moving from 39th to 36th. In education, a focus of major reform in Tennessee the last few years, the state improved from 42nd to 37th.

"I do think the changes that have been made in education ... are making a difference," Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after a rotary luncheon in Springfield, Tennessee. "It's one of the reasons I want to make sure that we don't back up."

Additionally, the national teen birth rate is at a historic low, and death rates for children and teens have fallen thanks to medical advances and the increased use of seat belts, car seats and bike helmets, according to the report.

However, the growing number of children growing up in poor communities and the increased percentage of children in single-parent households are causes for concern, the foundation said.

"We should all be encouraged by the improvements in many well-being indicators in the health, education and safety areas," said Patrick McCarthy, the foundation's president and CEO said in a news release. "But we must do much more. 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."

With a large number of impoverished children, New Mexico finished second-worst this year. It was a slight improvement from the 2013 index, when the state finished last, prompted by improvements in child poverty, high school graduation and teenage birth rates.

"It's a tiny step forward, but only if we can keep up the positive momentum of change," said Veronica Garc

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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