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Montana Inches Up in Overall Well-Being of Children

Montana improved in the economic well-being category with fewer teens unemployed and more in school

HELENA — Montana has moved up a notch in the rankings of the overall well-being of its children, but it still ranks in the bottom half of states nationally, according to a report released Tuesday.

The annual Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Montana 30th in the nation. The state ranked 31st last year and 28th in the 2013 report.

The rankings are determined by how well children fare in the areas of economic well-being, education, health and family and community.

Montana improved in the economic well-being category with fewer teens unemployed and more in school. The number of kids living in poverty remains unchanged at 21 percent, however.

In education, Montana slipped a bit, which Montana Kids Count communications director Jennifer Calder attributed largely to fewer kids attending preschool in the state. Sixty-two percent of Montana kids do not attend preschool, while the number is 54 percent nationally. Montana is one of the few states without any state investment in preschool programs.

Although the state lost ground in the family and community category, Calder said Montana data could suffer in this area from a lack of high-density populations. But the number of single-parent families increased, which Calder said can lead to more children living in poverty because it can be harder for one earner to move a family to a better economic status.

The category of children’s health has been tanking Montana’s overall ranking. The state had the worst ranking in that area in the country in the past two years. This year, however, the state has lost that designation, moving to 47th place.

That improvement is largely caused by a gradual decrease in uninsured kids after voters in 2008 expanded eligibility requirements in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The report also shows fewer teens in the state are abusing alcohol and drugs, with that percentage dropping from 14 to 7 percent from 2005-2013.

Plenty of work remains despite small steps forward in some areas, Calder said.

“If we want to see big growth and positive changes, we need to make sure we’re looking at policies that help a broad spectrum and not just a few individuals,” she said. “We want to think about the fact that kids succeed when families succeed.”

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