ARKANSAS, USA — Arkansas is ranked 43rd in the U.S. in child-well being, according to a study that measures youth mental health, economic challenges and other factors that go into analyzing children and families in the country.
The 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book is a 50-state report with calculations and research developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to get insight on what challenges American children are facing and how they are more likely to affect minorities.
According to the data, Arkansas is ranked 39th in economic well-being for children, 34th in education, 46th in health, 46th in family and community, which averages the state as the 43rd worst overall for child well-being.
"This year’s Data Book shows Arkansas is a harder place to be a child than almost anywhere else in the country," a statement from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF)— a nonprofit in the state— said about the study.
In 11 out of 16 indicators, the study says Arkansas is worse than the national average when it comes to a child's well-being.
"And while Arkansas’s outcomes have generally improved over time, we are losing ground in preschool enrollment; our low birth weight babies rate has worsened far faster than the national rate; and we’re seeing a concerning increase in child and teen deaths and teen obesity rates," AACF said.
The data also called the current conditions of youth mental health, sourcing the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, a "youth mental health pandemic.”
“There are state-level policy solutions to every troubling piece of data,” said Rich Huddleston, executive director of AACF, which is Arkansas’s member of the KIDS COUNT network.
“Lack of political will and lack of targeted investments in our children keeps Arkansas near the bottom of the states. While Arkansas’s lawmakers this week begin debating giving generous tax cuts to the wealthiest Arkansans, we’ve got more children living in poverty, more students lacking proficiency in reading and math, and more teens giving birth than in most other states.”
The report notes a jump in the percent of children between the ages of three and 17 who experience depression and anxiety from 9.4% in 2016, to 26% in 2020. This increase represents 1.5 million more children who say they are struggling with mental health.
"Arkansas’s data are especially bleak," AACF said, "with 14.4% of children with anxiety or depression, a 67.4% increase." This puts Arkansas as the third-highest state in the country.
These numbers also show a racial disparity among wellness conditions and mental health of children of color. While racial minorities make up of 9% of all high schoolers, 12% of Black students, 13% of students who are two or more races and 26% of American Indian or Native Alaskan high schoolers attempted suicide in last year's federal survey.
"Many LGBTQ young people are encountering challenges as they seek mental health support. Among heterosexual high school students of all races and ethnicities, 6% attempted suicide; the share was 23% for gay, lesbian or bisexual students," AACF said.
The indicators that are measured in the study come from four categories:
- Economic well-being
- Family and community factors
The data in this year’s report are a mix of pre-pandemic and more recent figures and are the latest available.
“American policymakers must prioritize solutions that don’t leave anyone behind,” said Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Children deserve to thrive regardless of their background or in which state they live.”
AACF made the following policy recommendations to Arkansas lawmakers:
- Extend postpartum coverage for new mothers in Medicaid. Right now, women insured under pregnancy Medicaid lose their coverage 60 days after delivery. We should expand that to 12 months, as 34 states and the District of Columbia have done or are in the process of implementing.
- Provide presumptive Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women, allowing them to be approved for Medicaid coverage quickly based on their income level.
- Allow children and babies in the lowest-income families to keep their ARKids First health insurance for a full year of continuous coverage, rather than kicking them off their insurance when their family incomes fluctuate month-to-month.
- Change the state-level policies that unnecessarily make it more difficult for Arkansas families to obtain SNAP benefits and to get enrolled in the WIC program – the nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children.
- Require scientifically based sex education in schools, and make it easier for Arkansans, including teens, to obtain long-acting contraception.
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