New national data shows that Idaho ranks among the best in the nation for economic well-being, family and community factors, but also shows rising rates of anxiety and depression among children and low educational outcomes.
The 2022 Kids Count data is released annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to measure the health and well-being of children and families in all 50 states. The rankings were largely compiled using data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the US Department of Education.
Kids Count’s Idaho partner is Idaho Voices for Children. Principal Christine Tidens said the data book is usually released in early June, but the delay around the 2020 census also delayed the release of the data book.
The Kids Count report includes 16 indicators in four categories: economic well-being, education, health and community. Of the 16, 11 of Idaho’s indicators have improved since 2020.
“What I interpret to mean is that our advocacy is working,” Tiddens said. “It also shows that Idaho has done pretty well through COVID and the recession, especially compared to other states.”
Idaho ranks 14th in the nation for economic well-being, with 14% of Idaho children living in households with income below the poverty line, down from 26% in 2008. The state ranks ninth for family and community factors , with 24% of children living in single-parent homes, compared to 34% nationwide and only 2% of children living in high-poverty areas. In 2008, 5% of children in Idaho lived in high poverty areas, compared to 9% of children nationally.
The number of children living in a home with a caregiver who does not have a high school diploma also fell from 12 percent in 2008 to 9 percent in 2020, and Idaho’s teen birth rate is less than half what it was in 2010, falling from 33% to 15%.
Data: Nearly 13% of Hispanic high school students in Idaho attempted suicide in 2019.
Tidens said the children’s mental health data is one of the most troubling aspects of the report, with the national number of children experiencing anxiety or depression jumping 26 percent between 2016 and 2020. In Idaho, the report found that 12.6% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 had anxiety or depression in 2020, an increase from 11.4% in 2016. Nearly 10% of Idaho high school students and 13% of Latino high school students did attempted suicide in 2019, according to the report.
US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory on youth mental health in December 2021, saying the COVID pandemic has accelerated and exacerbated existing mental health problems for children whose daily lives have been upended by school closures and social isolation.
Tiddens said young people in Idaho are similarly affected.
“Idaho’s youth have struggled with mental health for years. The increasing number of children in our state experiencing anxiety and depression should be a red flag for leaders to take action on this important issue,” Tiddens said.
Idaho Voices for Children’s policy recommendations to combat these numbers are to provide financial stability for children growing up in poverty, ensure access to mental health care for children, and strengthen mental health care resources for children with any experience and identity. Children who grow up in poverty are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems, according to Idaho Voices for Children, and schools across the state often don’t have enough mental health professionals to serve all students.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health to a child’s ability to thrive,” said Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in a press release. “As our nation continues to deal with the effects of the COVID crisis, policymakers must do more to ensure that all children have access to the care and support they need to cope and live fulfilling lives.” “
The director of Idaho Voices for Children says the state should use the surplus to invest in children
In health indicators, Idaho ranks 19th in the nation, with a slight increase in low birth weight babies and increases in child and teen deaths and obesity rates. Since 2010, the rate of low birth weight babies has increased from 6.8% to 6.9%, and the number of child and adolescent deaths per 100,000 has increased from 28 to 30. 10- to 17-year-olds who are overweight or obese have increased from 24% to 29% since 2016, the data show, still slightly lower than the national average of 32%.
The only positive among health trends is the number of children without health insurance, which has decreased from 11% in 2008 to 5% in 2020. Tiddens sees this as a victory related to Idaho’s Medicaid expansion, which she advocated through Idaho Voices for children.
Idaho ranked lowest in educational performance at 36th. Since 2008, the number of children not enrolled in preschool has decreased from 66 percent to 64 percent, meaning that just under two-thirds of Idaho children do not attend preschool. That’s compared to 53 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds nationwide who don’t attend preschool.
The number of fourth-graders in Idaho who are not proficient in reading has dropped from 68% in 2009 to 63% in 2019, compared to 66% statewide. But the number of eighth-graders in Idaho who are not proficient in math increased slightly from 62 percent to 63 percent, and the number of Idaho high school students who did not graduate on time was 19 percent, compared to 14 percent nationally.
Tiddens said those markers could be improved by taking advantage of Idaho’s record surplus.
“We know what it takes to have healthy, thriving children, and our state has the economic power to make significant investments in our next generation,” Tidens said.