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Report: South Dakota's Improving Kids' Well-Being; More Work Needed

South Dakota is making improvements in children's well-being, but researchers say the state could do better by its low-income families. (iStockphoto)
South Dakota is making improvements in children's well-being, but researchers say the state could do better by its low-income families. (iStockphoto)
June 21, 2016

PIERRE, S. D. – When it comes to children's well-being, South Dakota is doing better than most other states, but researchers say there's still work to do.

The latest national Kids Count Data Book ranks South Dakota 14th in the nation, up four spots from the year before.

The numbers show the state has seen a big drop in the rates of teen drug abuse and teen births, as well as improved access to health insurance.

But Carole Cochran, director of South Dakota Kids Count, pointed out that many families are still struggling economically in the state.

"Almost one in five children lives in poverty – you're talking about 18 percent, and that's still about 37,000 children," said Cochran. "I really think the state needs to continue to look at these indicators as they're looking at policies."

According to the report, states like South Dakota could help ease the financial burdens on low-income families in several ways, including setting up paid family-leave programs in the workplace.

The Kids Count Data Book ranks each state on 16 benchmarks, including health and education. While South Dakota saw improvements or no change in most areas, two indicators got worse. The number of eighth graders who are not proficient in math shot up five percent. Cochran noted the number of young children not in school went up as well.

"So, perhaps we could look at doing some early-childhood education, look more at pre-kindergarten, look more to Head Start and early Head Start programs in the state," she suggested.

Nationally, the report says South Dakota is one of six states with the greatest overall improvements. On the federal level, the report's authors have suggested that increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit could help lift more families out of poverty.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - SD