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Report: MT Needs to Improve Health for Children

Montana ranks 26th overall for child well-being, according to a new report. (photogramma1/Flickr)
Montana ranks 26th overall for child well-being, according to a new report. (photogramma1/Flickr)
June 13, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – Montana is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the well-being of children, but lags far behind in health outcomes, according to a report released today.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual KIDS COUNT Data Book assesses states on key indicators of how children and families are faring, and this year ranks Montana 26th overall. In health, the state ranks near the bottom at 47th, due in part to the high number of uninsured children - at eight percent compared to the national average of five percent.

Jennifer Calder, director of outreach and communications for Montana KIDS COUNT, says the state has been improving in this crucial area.

"We know that increasing the number of children who have health insurance is really key in terms of a whole host of positive health outcomes over the trajectory of that child's life," she says. "It also helps ensure that families are financially protected if a child is sick or needs care."

Calder adds child poverty also is high - nearly one in five in Montana - and says this is another area where the state needs to improve.

But she notes a positive sign from the Legislature. This year, state lawmakers approved funding for an early childhood education pilot program. According to the data, 60 percent of Montana toddlers aren't in school.

There is another troubling trend in health: Montana's child and teen death rate is the highest in the nation. Calder says about one in four of those deaths is the result of suicide. She says during this year's session, the state decided to invest in suicide prevention.

"It will provide a million dollars over the next two years and really targeting suicide prevention for a couple groups that have high rates - Native American youth and veterans, in particular - and also really looking at investing in school-based interventions to address broader youth," she explains.

Calder says Native American youth have a higher rate of attempted suicide than any other group.

The Casey Foundation's Laura Speer, associate director for Policy Reform and Advocacy, says it's important to track this data because it can ultimately drive policy and help lawmakers invest in what works for kids.

"We've been tracking these measures for more than 25 years because we believe in the importance of really getting a clear, unbiased measure of child well-being over time," Speer says. "We want folks to use this information to make good decisions so that we can maintain the gains that we've been able to achieve."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT