Only Miss. falls below La. in well-being of children

Published 2:42 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Louisiana has made progress in the past decade in improving the well-being of children, including important achievements like reducing teen pregnancy and the rate of students dropping out of school.

But despite those efforts, our state remains in sorry shape compared to the rest of the nation in many indicators of child welfare.

That’s why Louisiana, for at least the 10th year in a row, is ranked 49th nationwide in the Kids Count Data Book, an annual survey on the well-being of children.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

That’s a dismal assessment, and it should prompt a reevaluation of the state’s priorities in social services and children.

The Kids Count data, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, found that only Mississippi children fared worse than Louisiana’s — repeating the prevailing pattern for the last decade.

Louisiana was at the bottom or near the bottom in measures of children’s health, education, family conditions and safety, among other areas. And some of our state’s most troubling indicators pertained teenagers.

Ours was the most violent state when it comes to teenage deaths, with a homicide rate of 24 deaths per 100,000 teenagers in 2007, the most recent data available. That’s the highest rate of any state and double the national rate. About half of Louisiana teenagers who were killed that year lived in Orleans Parish. Such violence kept the state’s teenage death rate on the rise, even as the nation’s death rate continued to decline.

Not all news was bad. In recent years, Louisiana surpassed enrollment goals for the Children Health Insurance Program, increasing medical care access for low-income and working class children. The state also has substantially raised pre-kindergarten enrollment.

But most of the nation is improving as well, and in many cases faster than Louisiana. That explains why our state remains ranked in the bottom 10 in child poverty, even as it has reduced the poverty rate over the last 11 years.

The weak economy and budget constraints will make it harder to further improve our children’s welfare, but Louisiana needs to try harder to do so.