Wyoming has improved in national child well-being rankings over the past year, but still ranks very low when it comes to child health. That’s according the Kids Count Data Book released Tuesday by the Annie. E Casey Foundation.
Wyoming saw improvements in economic well-being, education and family & community concerns—and rose from 19th to 16th place overall in the annual rankings. But the Cowboy State still ranks 45th in the nation for child health.
That’s due to low birth weight babies, the number of children in Wyoming without healthcare, the number of child and teen deaths and rates of substance abuse among Wyoming teens.
Samin Dadelahi is Chief Operating Officer at the Wyoming Community Foundation—which handles Wyoming’s Kids Count data. She says many of these health measures have improved slightly between this year and last year, but Wyoming’s rural nature makes providing healthcare difficult.
“When we look at statistics for Wyoming over the years, we see that those child and teen deaths and teens who abuse alcohol and drugs for our state are always particularly high,” says Dadelahi. “And I personally believe that until we start really paying attention to mental health services available for youth, we’re not going to see huge changes in those numbers.”
Wyoming ranks 21st in education. Dadelahi says the state’s below-average rate of children attending preschool needs to improve.
“We’ve known for 20 years that early childhood education and development is incredibly important,” says Dadelahi. “We have data that’s 20 years old that shows that clearly. I think now it just takes so long for it to get into the minds of the public that there’s really critical links there. The Wyoming Legislature did a phenomenal job when they approved full-day, state-funded kindergarten. That’s incredible. And I know that there are legislators that are really interested in looking at state-funded preschool.”
Wyoming ranks second among the states in economic well-being, but still 13 percent of Wyoming kids live in poverty. Dadelahi says she expects the oil and gas downturn will impact the state’s economic rankings down the line.
Child well-being data was only available at the state level this year, but it will be released at the county level through the Wyoming Community Foundation next year.