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Arkansas Sees Improvement in Childhood Well-Being

PHOTO: The latest KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Arkansas as 40th in the nation for childhood well-being. While still among the worst in the U-S, progress is being made.  CREDIT: VA State Parks
PHOTO: The latest KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Arkansas as 40th in the nation for childhood well-being. While still among the worst in the U-S, progress is being made. CREDIT: VA State Parks
June 24, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Arkansas continues to be one of the worst states in the nation for children, but the latest snapshot on their well-being shows there have been improvements. The state is now ranked 40th overall in the KIDS COUNT Data Book, up two spots from the previous year.

According to Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, that gain was fueled by across-the-board improvements in childhood health.

"The number of low-birth-weight babies has gone down, as has the number of child and teen deaths," he noted. "And the number of uninsured children in Arkansas is now only 6 percent, which is way down from the 22 percent back when our Kids First program for kids began in 1997."

Arkansas also saw a drop in the number of teens abusing drugs or alcohol, as was the case nationally.

Among the areas of concern is that the number of children living in poverty in Arkansas grew to 28 percent. Addressing that is of key importance, said Huddleston, since poverty has so many negative effects on other areas of a child's life.

"The longer that a kid lives in poverty, the more likely that they are to be at all kinds of negative outcomes, things around their social and emotional development, safety, school readiness and education," he said.

The efforts to improve the well-being of kids across the state, said Huddleston, have included expanding access to quality preschool, although he noted funding has been flat for the past five years. Another rather new campaign has the goal of getting young children up to speed on reading.

"Because if you're not reading at grade level by the end of third grade, you're less likely to do well in school later on, you're less likely to graduate, less likely to go on to college," he warned. "So, that's a critical time that kids need to be reading at grade level."

Only about 30 percent of Arkansas fourth-graders are proficient in reading, although that is slightly better than the national figure.

More information is at bit.ly/11WRsbI.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - AR