Kansas ranks 17th for child well-being, according to new national report; fewer children lack health insurance

TOPEKA — A national survey of child well-being revealed Kansas ranked in the top 10 in terms of their financial security but the state performed modestly in key health, education and community factors.

The 2022 edition of the 50-state report by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation released Monday showed Kansas ranked 17th overall in the country based on four statistical categories. This year’s Kids Count revealed Kansas ranked eighth nationally in economic welfare terms, 23rd in a batch of community measurements, and 24th in both health and education status of children.

Overall, Kansas’ composite ranking of 17th was above Missouri’s 27th and Oklahoma’s 40th positions but below rankings of Nebraska at eighth and Colorado at 16th.

John Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, which is the state’s member of the Kids Count network, said the study was evidence Kansas ought to devote more resources to improving health of the next generation. In the category of health, the report ranked Kansas 24th in the United States.

“Even though fewer families are living in poverty than a decade ago, Kansas is continuing to see more rural hospitals close and health care costs soar to the detriment of our youngest residents,” Wilson said. “To top it off, Kansas remains in the bottom half of states in child and teen deaths.”

More than 38,000 Kansas children did not have health insurance in 2020, the report said, but that number had fallen from 8% to 5%. The figure could be reduced further if Kansas broadened eligibility for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Wilson said.

In addition, Kansas children with health coverage may not be able to adequately access care due to high costs or lack of proximity to clinics. The rate of child and teen deaths has worsened in Kansas, the 2020 report said, with 233 of 100,000 youth dying prematurely. The incidence of low birth weight babies and obesity among 10- to 17-year-olds increased slightly in Kansas. The teen birth rate dropped sharply in the state.

Kansas also ranked 24th in the latest report on education. From 2016 to 2020, an average of 43,000 children aged 3 or 4 weren’t enrolled in early childhood education programs.

For nearly a decade, Kansas has lagged behind other states on student academic success. Kansas ranked 28th in the nation in fourth grade reading proficiency, down from 13th in 2013. The state was 25th in eighth grade math proficiency, which was far below the 10th place reported in 2013. A higher percentage of high school students are graduating on time.

“If we want our kids to do better in school, we must do more for them earlier in their lives, like funding high-quality child care and early learning programs for every child,” Wilson said.

Kansas ranked eighth in the United States in economic standing of youthful residents of the state. Kansas was among the top five states for having the fewest number of children living in families in which no parent had full-time, year-round employment. While fewer families in Kansas were living in poverty, 97,000 children were in households with an income below the poverty line.

The Casey Foundation, which has performed this type of analysis on children since 1990, decided to high­light men­tal health issues of young peo­ple before and dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic.

In 2016, the portion of Kansas children 3 to 17 years of age with anxiety or depression was pegged at 10.1%, but that figure climbed to 13.2% by 2020. Here are shifts among other states on mental health challenges of children: Colorado, increased from 9.3% in 2016 to 10.4% in 2020; Nebraska, increased from 8.1% to 10.4%; Missouri, increased from 9.7% to 11.4%; and Oklahoma, increased from 10.5% to 12.1%.

COVID-19 disrupted or delayed collection of national data on child welfare in the United States. Since some sources of information didn’t issue 2020 reports, the Casey Foundation pivoted to multi-year averages.

• Tim Carpenter reports for the Kansas Reflector.

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