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Annual Kids Count Databook ranks Arkansas near bottom for child welfare

Annie E. Casey Foundation

In the most recent Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Arkansasfell 2 points in the rankings from 43rd to 45th in overall child well-being. That score is based on an amalgamation of several indicators from four main categories: economic well-being; education; health; and family and community. Annie E. Casey president and CEO Lisa Hamilton said the new study was based on data from 2019 to 2022.

"And over that time," she said. "We saw that 5 of the indicators we track saw improvement, four stayed the same and six went in the wrong direction."

The report showed some progress when in metrics like family and community, with declines in teenage birth rates and the total number of kids living in high poverty. Hamilton said education, however, had the most alarming results to come out of this year's report.

"In 2022 only 26 percent of eighth graders were proficient in math," she said. "And fourth grade proficiency in reading was at 32 percent."

Hamilton said chronic absenteeism - or when kids miss 10 or more days of school - has been getting worse since the COVID-19 pandemic.

"[It's] almost double the pre-pandemic rates," she said. "And it has a ripple effect on other students who are showing up every day. So, if you can imagine, teachers having to go back and cover material that other students missed. It slows down everyone in the class."

She said more prevalent mental health issues, left over health concerns and disrupted school days from the pandemic, as well as a lack of affordable child care options for working parents have all contributed to absenteeism.

And on this issue, Arkansas is close to the national trend, with 26 percent of students chronically absent in 2022. The state ranked 36th overall in Education.

One other factor where the data book shows problems for kids in Arkansas is in health. 2022 was one of the deadliest years for children in the state with 44 deaths per 100,000 children - almost 50 percent higher than the national average. The state was also ranked low in economic wellbeing at 46th in the nation. And Hamilton said she believes one of the major problems plaguing the state is more prevalent rates of childhood poverty.

"Arkansas has more than the national average," she said. "It has 22 percent of kids in poverty, compared to 16 percent overall in the country. That has ripple effects on everything from their access to healthcare... behavioral health, their access to nutrition."

As far as solutions go, Hamilton said she wants to see legislators and policy-makers improve some of these outcomes through expanding tax credits for families, granting wider access to health insurance and investing in public education.

"$40 Billion dollars is still on the table," she said. "So there are resources available for schools to do something. And the kinds of things they can do are to provide intensive tutoring... they can also invest more in community schools."

The full 2024 Kids Count report is available at aecf.org

Ozarks at Large transcripts are created on a rush deadline by reporters. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. The authoritative record of KUAF programming is the audio record.

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Daniel Caruth is KUAF's Morning Edition host and reporter for Ozarks at Large<i>.</i>
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