Overall, Alabama ranks 44th in the nation, according to the report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, up from 46th in 2016.
The data book, released Tuesday, measures child well-being across four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Each domain includes four sub-categories called indicators. According to the report, Alabama improved last year in 11 of 16 indicators and the state was equal to or better than the national average in six indicators including teen births per 1,000 and high school students not graduating on time.
“I went back through previous years and this is the best report we’ve had on a national level compared with other states,” says Rhonda Mann, policy and research director for VOICES for Alabama’s Children.
The economic well-being domain saw Alabama improve in every indicator. The percentage of children living in poverty in Alabama dropped slightly from 28 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2015. Mann says the drop can be attributed to a decrease in the number of children whose parents lack secure employment, which fell from 37 percent in 2010 to 33 percent in 2015, according to the Kids Count report. One indicator that officials are boasting about is the drop in the number of uninsured children.
“Alabama came in with only three percent of children not being covered with some type of health insurance. We rank fifth in the nation,” Mann says. “This is the first time since Casey has been doing this report in this way with the economic well-being domain that Alabama has shown improvement in these indicators.”
Several factors led to the overall improvement, Mann says. More public awareness has helped shine a light on issues of child well-being in the state. And with more families back to work, Alabama is showing signs of life after its long struggle to bounce back from the recession.
A longterm solution to lifting children out of poverty and improving overall well-being is education, which Mann says starts with Alabama’s First Class Pre-Kindergarten program. The 2017 Legislature allotted more than $13 million in extra funding to help expand the program and add about 100 new classrooms statewide. The bill, which was signed by Governor Kay Ivey following the legislative session, included a total of more than $77 million.
“When we talk about First Class Pre-K, it is so critically important, especially for children in low-income families, children in poverty, because it is more likely that a child entering school from a low-income family would’ve heard 30 million fewer words in just the first few years of life,” Mann says.
Not hearing those words plays a big part in a child’s vocabulary development and their readiness to learn, she says. A child who enters school behind his or her peers will have a harder time catching up educationally. But according to the report, 57 percent of Alabama’s children ages three to four are not in school, which can lead to problems as children grow into teens and adults and could affect other educational indicators. According to the report, 71 percent of fourth graders and 83 percent of eighth graders in Alabama are not proficient in reading.
One statistic not mentioned in the Kids Count report, but that Mann feels is important to note is Alabama’s national rank for childhood obesity. As of 2014, the state ranks 10th for obese children ages two to four, up from 20th following the previous count. Mann says childhood obesity is indicative of other health concerns, such as a lack of healthy and affordable food options, that can also negatively impact children as they grow.