By Jesse Wagoner
June 28, 2016

The well-being of Kansas children has declined significantly in the last year, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Data Book ranks each state in child well-being within four domains: economic well-being, education, health and family and community. Kansas ranks 19th overall, down from 15th.

Children’s economic well-being has worsened with an increase in the number of children whose parents lack secure employment. The report states there are 132,000 children living in poverty in Kansas and 10,000 teenagers in the state are not working and not in school.

There has been an increase in the number of high school students graduating on time, according to the foundation. However, the number of children attending preschool has fallen. Early childhood education is considered essential to learning success, yet 46,000 children in the state are not attending preschool programs.

“Since 2011, Kansas has reduced early education funding and significantly weakened the state safety net. This has been negatively impacting children and families for years, but we’re only just now starting to see the consequences due to a lag in the data,” Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children said. “What’s evident is that policy choices of the post-recession years have eroded the well-being of children and families in Kansas — especially compared to other states that made different choices. Kansas struggles to keep afloat while other states swim laps around us.”

Children living in high-poverty areas and children living in single-parent families have also increased. Yet there have been decreases in the number of teens using alcohol or drugs and the number of teen births.

One area that Kansas children have improved is health. The number of children with health insurance has increased and the number of low-birthweight babies has decreased. The number of child deaths has also decreased, with 216 deaths of children under the age of 18 reported.

Kansas Action for Children said many of the decreases in child well-being can be attributed to the reduction of safety net services for the most vulnerable individuals in our state.

“Kansas investments in early childhood health and education have largely stagnated or declined since the Great Recession, which ended years ago,” McKay said. “Unfortunately, instead of re-investing in important programs like early childhood education and expanding access to the safety net for Kansas’ most vulnerable kids, policymakers weakened the safety net, repeatedly cut or swept funding for the Children’s Initiatives Fund, and diminished the state revenue stream, making Kansas families even more vulnerable and economically fragile. Kansas’ overall decline is a direct reflection of those choices.”

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