Utah kids have lower death rate, but more poverty, single-parent families

By Lois M. Collins, Deseret News

Published: Mon, July 21, 2014, 10:05 p.m. MDT

 Jasmine Alfaro gets dinner outside of the Central Park Community Center in South Salt Lake on Friday, July 18, 2014. The dinner is part of the Salt Lake CAP summer food program, which offers free dinner to children at five locations in the valley, Monday through Friday.

Jasmine Alfaro gets dinner outside of the Central Park Community Center in South Salt Lake on Friday, July 18, 2014. The dinner is part of the Salt Lake CAP summer food program, which offers free dinner to children at five locations in the valley, Monday through Friday.

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is now No. 11 in the annual KIDS COUNT report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, its gains and losses largely mirroring national trends.

The state ranked as high as No. 3 in child well-being, back in 2009, but then dropped each year until it hit 14th last year. Its new ranking makes it one of the most improved states, according to the report.

In the area of family and community, Utah ranks No. 2, behind New Hampshire. In education, the Beehive State comes in No. 29. Terry Haven, deputy director of child advocacy group Voices for Utah Children, said that’s largely because of a poor showing in high school graduation rates and preschool enrollment, compared to national averages.

The report includes a comparison to where states were 25 years ago, when the first KIDS Count came out. Utah’s teen birthrate has fallen 52 percent compared to 1990, from 48 to 23 births per 1,000. Its childhood death rate has dropped 37 percent, from 38 to 24 deaths per 100,000.

Policies aimed at safety take a lot of the credit for the increased likelihood that children will survive to become adults, according to both Haven and Janet Brooks, child advocacy manager at Primary Children’s Hospital. Haven points to state legislation that created a graduated driver license and seat belt and booster seat laws as making a big difference. Brooks also credits improved technology like inflatable seat belts and side airbags, and the Spot the Tot awareness campaign to prevent driveway back-overs, along with strengthened laws to prevent drunk driving and stop parents from leaving kids in hot cars, among others.

The report also highlights what got worse for kids in Utah. Childhood poverty rates rose from 12 to 15 percent, and the percentage of children living in households that spend more than 30 percent of income on housing climbed to 34 percent from 22 percent in 1990.

One-fifth of children live in single-parent families compared to 18 percent in 2005, a year they chose to look at because it is mid-decade and before the recession.

Just making sure that all children are adequately fed is important and difficult, said Gina Cornia of Utahns Against Hunger. She points to efforts to increase the number of low-income children who participate in breakfast programs, an area where Utah lags. Children who come to school hungry don’t learn as well, so efforts are underway to reach those children. While more than one-third of Utah school children receive lunch free or at a reduced price, only a third of that third eat breakfast at school, so advocates and policymakers are trying to remove barriers.

Breakfast programs that have flourished in other states often take the early meal out of the cafeteria and into the classroom for younger students or tackle it as a grab-and-go between classes for older students, Cornia said.

Nutrition programs have made a huge difference during the recession, she added. “Hunger is a really critical issue for health and wellbeing and quality of life. We are lucky in Utah that people are incredibly generous, donating to local organizations, food banks and pantries. But they can’t begin to meet all the needs, so nutritional programs are important to make sure all families have resources.”

Voices for Utah Children has compiled a list of accomplishments Utah would need in order to rank No. 1 nationally in terms of child well-being. It says Utah would have to:

— prevent 60 teen and child deaths

— prevent 600 low birth weight births

— reduce births to teens by 1,000

— raise 18,000 children out of poverty

— enroll 24,000 children in preschool

— help the underemployed parents of 38,00 children find more stable employment

— assist the parents of 45,000 Utah children in getting high school diplomas or equivalents

— ensure that 81,000 uninsured children are covered by health insurance

— see that 160,000 more children live in affordable homes.

“We know what needs to be done,” Haven said. “There are a lot of ways to get there.”

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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1. Big Al
Chandler, AZ,
July 22, 2014

While feeding, clothing, and educating these poverty-stricken children is the noble responsibility of all those who have the means (whether through extended family, churches, private charities, or public agencies), the really pathetic and tragic circumstance is that adults who can not or will not provide the necessities for these children continue to bring them into this world. This includes those who appear to be middle class, who are fully employed but under-employed, and go through all the visible motions of having their act together, but then send their kids to school for free meals, use food stamps, or depend on others to meet their personal financial responsibilities.

If you can not provide for children, the noble and honest decision is to not have children!! Strategically planning to have others meet your financial responsibilities is a hallmark of the lack of integrity. I wonder if this is an issue in Utah.

2. My2Cents
Taylorsville, UT,
July 22, 2014

Poverty and parents are not somehting they can't be held accountable for. Poverty is the state of the economy and how corporations and government have jointly collaborated to oppress workers and incomes. With the use of cheap labor and slaves and illegals foreign nationals to maintain poverty so they cannot rise up and knock down and fight governemtn for its criminal actions.

Poverty is a creation by business and govnerment denial pretending it is not tier fault. So they blame the people for not having education so they give them debt to obtain education but that doesn't work either becasue education is not the root of poverty. Poverty is the collaboration by business to control government laws to stop government from deporting illegal aliens and tax exempt low cost impoverished labor.

Poverty is not related to education, its the result of government corruption and fraud.

3. Stormwalker
Cleveland , OH,
July 22, 2014

Typical liberal hysteria. The governor and attorney general are spending millions of dollars defending traditional families. That means all these problems will go away because traditional families will have been defended.

Defending traditional families is all about the children. The governor and AG said it, we've read it in DN editorials, we see it in comment after comment from the most conservative citizens. Traditional families and children. Must defend!

Whoever wrote this article is ver misinformed. Utah is all about the children and is therefore spending millions so families will have a mom and a dad and nobody will drop out of school or get free meals in the park or get teen pregnant. Defending traditional families will do that, and build strong bodies 12 different ways and get all the stubborn stains out. Plus, traditional families are fat free and get great gas milage.

Yep. For the children. Millions of dollars.

4. sally
Kearns, UT,
July 22, 2014

I don't see poverty as the main issue here. I see parents who lack an understanding or desire to organize their lives and learn how to parent. I grew up in a home with very little income. My parents valued education and learning. It was a part of everyday life. The focus of our home life was provident living (wise use of resources) instead of focusing on more money to live a competitive life with relatives and neighbors. We learned that we could not compete with others, especially when they were filing bankruptcies and refinancing their mortgages to live a lifestyle. Poverty comes at all income levels. Some people are better at hiding it.

When we learn to focus on provident living (wise use of resources) instead of how many dollars we can earn and spend at dead end jobs, then we will also see a change in the focus of life in Utah. Most two income families would be better off with only one parent working. Most people do not understand how to analyze income and taxes.

5. hockeymom
Highland, UT,
July 22, 2014

There are two ways to not have children you can't afford, assuming you aren't able to afford birth control, either.

1. Abortion
2. Abstinence

In as much as it isn't noble or honest to kill an unborn baby, I prefer the latter, but I also know that's not likely going to happen. So if birth control were more readily available to low income women, I wonder if some of these issues might be lessened? Government funded birth control or government funded food subsidies and health care, either way, it would involve our tax dollars. I wonder which one would be cheaper?