Alabama ranked 44th among the states in child well-being for the second year in a row, according to the latest version of an annual study released Tuesday.
It was just the second time that Alabama ranked outside the bottom five states in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book.
“We are not settling for 44, but I think it’s something that we do have to celebrate,” said Melanie Bridgeforth, executive director of Voices for Alabama’s Children, a nonprofit that works with the Casey Foundation to collect state data.
While Alabama made strides in children’s health and education, children’s economic well-being worsened, something that was true nationwide as well, the foundation reported.
A greater number of Alabama’s children are living poverty, according to the report. The number of parents lacking secure employment rose to 31 percent in 2012 from 27 percent in 2008. The percentage of children residing in households with a high housing cost burden also rose slightly, while the percentage of teens not working and not in school stayed the same at 8 percent.
The percent of Alabama children living in single-parent families rose to 35 percent in 2012 from 32 percent in 2005, a trend which Bridgeforth said can influence a child’s economic situation.
Bridgeforth attributed reductions in preventable child deaths to child death review teams throughout the state.
Richard Burleson, former director of the Alabama Child Death Review System at the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the committee has spearheaded educational and awareness campaigns to combat preventable child deaths.
Burleson, now director of the department’s injury prevention branch, said that downward trends in the economic well-being of children can also impact child safety.
“There’s too many strong correlations that have been drawn between economic influences and different types of injuries,” he said.
As an example, Burleson said that some unexpected infant deaths result from families who can’t afford cribs. This often means that infants will be exposed to preventable risks like overheating and suffocation while sharing a bed with parents.
Improvements in child health included declines in the amount of low-birthweight babies, which dropped to 8 percent in 2012 from 8.2 percent in 2005. The rate of children not covered by health insurance also decreased to 7 percent in 2012 from 10 percent in 2008. Other declines were seen in child and teen deaths, teens abusing alcohol or drugs and teen births.
The report also notes strides in education, with a shrinking number of fourth graders not proficient in reading and eighth graders not proficient in math. The rate of high schoolers not graduating on time decreased to 19 percent in the 2011-12 school year from 27 percent in the 2005-06 school year.
Recent gains are encouraging for the state, but this is no time to be complacent, Bridgeforth was quoted as saying in a press release issued Thursday.
“State lawmakers are making decisions today that will shape the next 25 years for Alabama’s children and it is vital that our state leaders continue to prioritize what is good for our kids," Bridgeforth was quoted as saying in the release.
The director said that programs put in place by legislators that center on child well-being, such as the All Kids low-cost insurance program and child passenger safety laws, have positively impacted the data in the report. Improvements have also resulted from state grants for pre-K programs, she said.
As lawmakers consider ways to rework the statewide budget, they should keep effective programs for child well-being in mind, Bridgeforth said.
The report, which features visually appealing charts, is designed so that legislators, parents and community members can easily interpret the complex data, Bridgeforth said.
Aretha Bracy, the current director of the Alabama Child Death Review System, said the report’s format will help pique the interest of parents.
“Some of our parents are going to be our best advocates,” Bracy said. “They influence the masses.”
Staff Writer Taylor Manning: 256-235-3547. On Twitter @tmanning_Star.