The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, which ranks states on a series of child well-being indicators, and Louisiana has moved up two places to its highest-ever ranking.
The state moved to 47th place in the 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book, after being ranked in 49th place for the previous 10 editions. KIDS COUNT measures child well-being in each state using 16 data indicators, which are grouped into four categories: Health, Education, Family and Community, and Economic Well-Being.
Louisiana improved on 11 of the 16 indicators, and received its highest state ranking - 39th place - in the Health category, reflecting major gains in children's health outcomes and access to health care services.
For health indicators, KIDS COUNT considers the percentage of low birth weight babies born in the state, children's health insurance coverage, teen alcohol and drug abuse and the number of child and teen deaths. Louisiana improved on each of these indicators and outperformed the national average on the percentage of children who have some form of health care coverage and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.
The KIDS COUNT rankings show Louisiana improving on all of the health indicators at a faster rate than the national average, which is a trend that should lead to higher overall rankings in the future.
"Moving up in the rankings is a commitment that requires dedication from all the state's child-serving agencies," said Bruce Greenstein, Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals. "Improvements illustrated in the 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book demonstrate that Louisiana is on the right track. A healthier Louisiana starts with healthier children, and improving their access to health care services is a top priority for our department. We've implemented transformative initiatives, such as Bayou Health, the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership and the Birth Outcomes Initiative, which are leading to better outcomes. This is just the beginning. We will continue fighting for greater improvements and showcasing our results, so people can track our progress as we work to make Louisiana a healthier place to grow up."
Regarding education, KIDS COUNT considers the percentage of children not attending preschool, reading and math proficiency and high school students not graduating on time. Louisiana improved in all four areas, and outperformed the national trend on the percentage of children percentage of children not attending preschool. According to The National Institute for Early Education Research's 2011 Preschool Yearbook, Louisiana ranked 13th in the nation in terms of ensuring access to preschool for 4-year-olds.
"Education in Louisiana improved in all areas of the 2012 KIDS COUNT. We have more students enrolling in preschool and thus starting kindergarten ready to learn, more of our 4th and 8th graders are performing at grade level, and the percentage of our high school students graduating on time continues to increase. This shows that our education reforms are working, and we are making progress to ensure that all students graduate on track for college or a professional career," said State Superintendent of Education John White. "But the reality of it is that there is still much work left to be done. As we further implement reforms statewide including the elements of choice and empowerment in the Louisiana Believes plan, we expect these results to improve even further."
When evaluating family and community, KIDS COUNT considers the percentage of children in single-parent families, children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma, children living in high-poverty areas and the number of teen births. Louisiana improved in two of the four indicators; most notably, the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas decreased by 23 percent.
"We are encouraged to see the progress in Louisiana's Kids Count overall ranking and more importantly improvements in 11 out of the 16 key indicators evaluated in the report. Although fairly consistent with national trends, we certainly want to move the needle positively in the other areas as well," said Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonnier. "While the results are encouraging, our targeted focus on improving the well-being of children must continue. Our ongoing collaboration with Louisiana's child-serving agencies and community partners is essential in order to maintain our improved education, health and child poverty outcomes and to keep them moving in the right direction."
In terms of economic well-being, KIDS COUNT considers the percentage of children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in households with a high housing cost burden, and teens not in school and not working. Louisiana showed improvement in the percentage of children in poverty.
"Louisiana has done very well at creating jobs, helping people fill those jobs and we're making great strides in preparing more people for productive careers. This bodes well for families across the state," Louisiana Workforce Commission Executive Director Curt Eysink said.
Last year, the LWC helped more than 219,000 people find work and Louisiana ranks 6th in the country in the numeracy and literacy gains of youth served through the LWC's network of Business & Career Solutions Centers.
"Our high school dropout rate is improving, more and more high school students are taking college courses and enrollment has been exploding in our community and technical colleges. In addition, Louisiana has experienced healthy increases in jobs for almost two years, which increases incomes, reduces stress on families and leaves me optimistic that Louisiana will continue to improve in coming years on many indicators related to the condition of our children," Eysink said.
The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook.