Karen Olson, program director for North Dakota KIDS COUNT offers some insight into the latest resource available from KIDS COUNT, the 2014 Data Book.
North Dakota’s overall child well-being ranks sixth in the nation according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 25th edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual assessment of children’s well-being in the United States. The Data Book provides a portrait of how U.S. children are doing in four key areas of well-being: Economic Well-Being, Family and Community, Education, and Health. States are ranked on 16 indicators of child well-being, four for each key area, that reflect current research regarding the conditions needed for proper child development.
North Dakota experienced improvements in all four areas of child well-being – and ranked no. 1 with regard to the economic well-being of children. This is not too surprising given that North Dakota continues to lead the nation in growth of GDP and per capita income and continues to have the nation’s lowest unemployment rate. Yet, despite these positive measures, many North Dakota children face challenges. For example, North Dakota’s child poverty rate was the lowest among all 50 states in 2012 and has not changed in 12 years, since the year 2000. Currently, 13 percent or 20,000 children live in conditions where their families are unable to afford the basic necessities - and this percentage increases to 50 percent for American Indian children and 40 percent for children living with a single parent. Our current prosperity provides us with a unique opportunity to make investments in the lives of our children to ensure they get the best possible start in life.
The Data Book also helps to identify opportunities for investment - for addressing those challenges. Research suggests that investment is most critical in the early years, birth through age eight, to support families and help young people succeed. Yet, North Dakota has the 5th worst ranking with regard to preschool enrollment among states. High-quality early learning programs for 3- and 4-year-olds can improve school readiness, with the greatest gains accruing to the highest-risk children. Yet, two-thirds of 3- and 4-year-olds in North Dakota do not attend nursery school or preschool. For North Dakota to improve its ranking from 45th to 1st in the nation, it would require enrolling an additional 5,000 children in preschool.
Spending on education and training has the greatest impact early in life. The theory, rooted in well-established science of brain development, is that the first few years of life play a critical role in shaping future emotional, cognitive, and intellectual skills. Children who get consistent, nurturing care are more likely to succeed in school, avoid trouble with the law, and have productive lives in the workforce. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, for every dollar invested in early childhood programs, there is a $4-$9 return on the investment. An investment in our young children is an investment in the future economy and workforce of our state. The more we know about our children, the better equipped we are to make smart investments in our future.
Other highlights from the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book include:
Economic Well-Being (1st in the nation)
Family and Community (4th in the nation)
Education (19th in the nation)
Health (23rd in the nation)