HELENA — The overall well-being of children in Montana has slipped compared to other states, according to a report released Tuesday.
Montana ranked 31st in the annual Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Montana ranked 28th in the 2013 report.
The report ranks states based on 16 indicators of child welfare in areas of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
“It’s not necessarily that we’ve dropped three places but that we are in the bottom half of states nationally,” said Thale Dillon, director of Montana Kids Count in the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana. “Clearly there are things that we can do better.”
According to the report, Montana made improvements in preschool attendance, eighth-grade math proficiency and on-time graduation, but more children live in poverty compared to last year’s report.
For the second year running, the report ranks Montana last in the nation for health. That’s largely because the rates for child and teen deaths and for teen alcohol and drug abuse are the highest in the nation, Dillon said. Although these death rates have been declining at the national level, Montana is not seeing this trend, according to the report.
One of the reasons behind the high death rates is the rural nature of the state and the amount of time it can take for a vehicle crash to be found and for those injured to get to a hospital which might not be equipped for major trauma. All of those factors can reduce someone’s chance of survival Dillon said.
“Given that traffic crashes are the most frequent cause of death for Montana children and teens, increasing the use of seat belts, car seats, and bike helmets in the state would put us on the path to declining child and teen death rates as well,” Dillon said. “Such simple things as using seat belts would make a huge difference.”
Efforts are also in the works through federal grants to target teen alcohol and drug use, Dillon added. She said efforts are focused on parents and communities and changing the attitude that alcohol abuse is part of growing up.
Montana also saw a higher number of children living in families in which the head of the household lacks a high school diploma, according to the report. But, fewer children are living in the high-poverty areas of the state and fewer babies are being born to teens.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Dillon said, adding that many other states are just doing better at a faster pace. “We need to keep up our efforts.”
Montana’s ranking is the lowest among neighboring states in the report. North Dakota ranked sixth overall, while South Dakota ranked 17th, Wyoming is at 19th and Idaho ranked 21st.
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