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How Can South Dakota Become Better State for Children?

Researchers say while South Dakota has made big improvements, the state could do more to help children stay safe and educated. (iStockphoto)
Researchers say while South Dakota has made big improvements, the state could do more to help children stay safe and educated. (iStockphoto)
August 1, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota recently was ranked one of the most-improved states for children’s well-being, but researchers are laying out ways the state could do better.

After looking over the latest >Kids Count Data Book, experts are suggesting several key areas where the state could improve.

Health is a top priority. In 2014, South Dakota saw 71 child and teen deaths. And while that number is down from previous years, the state still has one of the highest rates in the country.

Carole Cochran, director of South Dakota Kids Count, says most of those deaths came from car crashes and accidents. She suggests the state could help by enacting stricter rules for obtaining a driver's license.

"Currently, you can get your driver's license at age 14 and three months,” she points out. “Just lengthening that out by six more months would allow many 14-year olds to experience the wide range of weather and driving conditions in South Dakota."

Cochran says research suggests that if young drivers spend more time behind the wheel, they become better drivers.

And a recent report from WalletHub shows that South Dakota has some of the weakest driving laws in the country coupled with the highest number of teen DUIs per capita.

The other key area where Cochran says the state could improve is early childhood education. The state is seeing more young children not enrolled in school than in previous years.

Cochran suggests that improving access to pre-kindergarten and Early Head Start programs could have economic benefits down the line.

"If we want to have a strong economy, if we want to have businesses coming into the state, they're going to want to look for a strong workforce, educated – a place, if parents have children, that they have a safe place for them to be while they're working if they're not in school," she stresses.

According to the latest data, in 2014 about 15,000 3 and 4 year olds in South Dakota were not enrolled in school.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - SD