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When it comes to the well-being of children, Alabama is no longer among the bottom five states in the nation, according to a study released today.

The 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked Alabama 44th among the 50 states in overall child well-being based on measures in four categories – health, education, economic well-being, and family and community. Last year, the state was ranked 45th.

“In the more than 20 editions of the KIDS COUNT Data Book, Alabama has ranked 48th, 47th and 46th several times. While Alabama was making strides to improve child well-being through both policy and programs, other states were as well,” said Linda Tilly, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children, based in Montgomery.

"We have made up the ground that had us lagging behind, and new momentum is moving us ahead. Child advocates, business leaders, community volunteers and policymakers must all continue to support efforts to sustain that momentum.”

VOICES for Alabama’s Children, home of the Kids Count project in Alabama, will release a state Kids Count Data Book in September that will break out the numbers by county.

In the national report comparing the states, the picture for Alabama’s children improved in all measures in two categories: health and education, Tilly said Friday.

In the health category, where Alabama improved to 35th place from 41st, the number of child and teen deaths decreased, which reflected efforts to establish a statewide death review system and strengthen child passenger safety and teen driver laws, the report said. 

Tilly said child advocates in Alabama have pushed for policies to help the plight of needy children, such as AllKids, a program that provides low-cost insurance coverage. The Data Book said that the percentage of Alabama children without health insurance declined by 38 percent.

In education from 2005 to 2011, Alabama virtually equaled the national average regarding fourth-grade reading proficiency, which experts have said is critical for comprehension in all subjects moving forward. The state also made gains in preschool attendance and high school graduation within four years. In education overall, the state ranked 44th.

Three of the four economic well-being indicators had worse showings, including the percentage of children in poverty and percentage with parents lacking secure employment. The report said the state appears to be trailing the nation as a whole in this area, in which it ranked 40th. 

In the category of family and community, where the state ranked 44th, Alabama was a mixed bag. The teen birth rate declined, and there was a small improvement in the percentage of children living in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma. However, the percent of children in single-parent families worsened, the report said.

Tilly pointed out that taking care of the state's children -- "our future work force" -- should be considered a business and economic issue. She cited the state's effort to grow its aerospace industry, including the establishment of Airbus' first U.S. assembly plant in Mobile.

"I would like to see our community leaders, business leaders and policymakers put as much effort into understanding and recognizing the aspects of child well-being and how we can improve them," she said.

The Data Book listed the top five states as New Hampshire (1st), Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey. The bottom five states were Louisiana, Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico (50th).

See more data from the KIDS COUNT web site here.

Published: June 24, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Updated: June 24, 2013 at 6:32 AM 

By Carol McPhail | cmcphail@al.com Press-Register
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