Utah ranks 4th among states in survey on children's well-being
The 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Utah 4th among the 50 states, in the Top Ten 10 in all four major categories. Martin Muñoz, the KIDS COUNT director with Voices for Utah Children, said there was an overall 26-percent increase in mental-health issues from 2016 to 2020. But the numbers increase substantially in communities of color, and especially among L-G-B-T-Q kids.
"Within our LGBTQ community, facing policies to put them in a place that may make them feel that they are not part of society, that's very concerning. We need to really step back and see how children are being affected," said Martin Muñoz.
Muñoz said the survey ranked Utah 1st in indicators of strong Family and Community, 6th for Economic Well-Being, and 10th both for Health and Education. He adds while the rankings were good, Utah lawmakers need do more to help kids, by spending some of the state budget surplus on more mental and behavioral health care.
Muñoz believes one area where Utah could improve is by developing special programs to help students who fell behind during the pandemic. He said too few are graduating with their class.
"We did better overall, but then also high school graduation, graduating on time, we're still struggling – especially those who face challenges with disabilities. And so, we need to make sure all of our students are graduating on time," said Muñoz.
Though the rates have fallen, more than 90-thousand Utah kids still live below the poverty line. Leslie Boissiere with the Casey Foundation says the federal government has offered supports to help families, such as additional food assistance during the pandemic, but that help is likely to expire soon.
"It’s incredibly important that decisionmakers seize the opportunity and the lessons learned during the COVID-19 period, when more resources were provided to families, so that we can make sure that every child has their basic needs met – that fewer children live in poverty, and that the overall well-being of children in this country increases," said Leslie Boissiere.
The full report is online at AECF.org/databook.