National report gives Arizona poor marks in child well-being - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

National report gives Arizona poor marks in child well-being

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Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2012 5:45 am | Updated: 9:12 am, Thu Jul 26, 2012.

Arizona is not doing well by its children, according to an annual report released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In fact, the 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book shows only four states in the country are doing worse in terms of the overall well-being of children. Arizona dropped nine rankings from last year’s report.

Using economic, education, health, and family and community facts related to children in Arizona from 2005 through 2011, the foundation determined Arizona sorely needs to make improvements to a number of areas, including children’s access to health care and early childhood programs.

Much can be blamed on the recession and its impact to families – and state funding – child advocates say.

“The report makes it so painfully obvious that this economic recession we had was a tsunami for young kids. In a time when children and families need the support and were suffering economically, most of the basic supports were cut. We saw that in Arizona,” said Rhian Allvin, CEO with First Things First.

First Things First was created through a voter-approved tax on tobacco products, with funds designated for early childhood learning and health programs.

Among the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s findings:

• 13 percent of Arizona children are without health insurance; (2010 statistic).

• 27 percent of high school students do not graduate on time (2009 statistic).

• 27 percent of children 5 and younger live in poverty (2010 statistic).

• 51 percent of children do not receive quality early education (2010 statistic).

Cuts to state-funded programs for child-care subsidies and health insurance impacted Arizona’s rankings this year, said Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and chief executive officer of Arizona’s Children's Action Alliance.

Only Texas and Nevada ranked lower than Arizona in terms of insured kids, with 14 percent and 17 percent respectively. Florida tied Arizona with 13 percent of its children uninsured.

“We’ve been going backward with children’s health with budget cuts. That impacts so many things: kids doing well in school, whole families, work issues for parents when parents miss work. If we can improve that in whatever decisions we make going forward with health-care reform, we need to keep that in mind with what’s important for kids,” Naimark said.

Allvin’s group – First Things First – is helping to address both issues. In terms of health insurance, the group facilities meetings between families that may need insurance and groups that help them fill out state paperwork to get assistance.

First Things First also offers a voluntary quality-control program for child-care centers. Through it, the centers can learn what they’re doing right and where they can make improvements.

During the last few years as Arizona revenues have dropped, the state cut 45 percent of subsidies available to low-income families to pay for child care, said Bruce Liggett, executive director of the Arizona Child Care Association.

“Children’s early years are when learning is so important and exposure to high quality early childhood education gets kids ready for school and to be successful as adults,” Liggett said.

“For these ranks to put Arizona 49th is an indicator we’re going to pay for down the road in terms of education,” he said of Arizona’s status on the percentage of children attending preschool.

Liggett, who has worked in early childhood education for many years, said First Things First is the “only group” making an effort to address this.

First Things First helps families with child-care scholarships – to the tune of 6,000 children, Allvin said.

Arizona wasn’t alone in terms of making cuts to social programs, according to the KIDS COUNT report. The report found that with the recession, states saw the biggest decline to revenues on record. But the authors also reported that 2012 could see some improvement.

The may be seen in Arizona, as well, with the recent report out this week that for the first time in years the state ended the fiscal year with a surplus.

There are some bright spots in the KIDS COUNT report, said Naimark of the Children's Action Alliance.

The biggest areas of improvement for the state were in the rate of births to teen moms and the rate of child and teen deaths.

“The first improvement is due to a lot of community efforts by both parents and schools and community groups really focusing on getting kids constructive things to do and good goal setting for the future, as wells as discussions on responsible behavior,” Naimark said.

The latter statistic “fluctuates a lot,” Naimark said. But improved use and quality of safety devices, such as seatbelts, could be making a difference.

Arizona lawmakers recently passed a new “safety booster” law that goes into effect in August, requiring the use of a child safety seat for children up to 8 years old. Current law ends required use of safety seats at 5 years old.

The report may be found online www.aecf.org.

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