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Kids count

Minnesota, North Dakota rank in top 10 for children's well-being

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GRAND FORKS - Minnesota ranks second and North Dakota seventh in the annual assessment of children's well-being in the U.S. continuing a long run in good standing for both states.

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But the spokespeople for the two states said the Kids Count data is not all good news but rather a mixed bag.

"Compared to the rest of the nation, this is good news," said Polly Fassinger, the North Dakota Kids Count program director. "But in children's well-being, we rank 47th in making improvements. So, we're not keeping up with other states."

Fassinger said North Dakota historically ranked in the top three in the first dozen years of the assessments that began in 1988, but has been dropping since 2000. The two troublesome areas are the state ranking in the bottom 11 in both child (0-14) and teen (5-19) death rates.

"The majority of the child death rate is due to illness," Fassinger said. "We do have a fair amount of children who are not covered by health insurance, so you have to wonder how many are getting access to health care or late access to health care.

"Forty-one percent of teen deaths come from car accidents. This is something we can do something about -- investing more time and energy into safety issues such as drinking and driving. There's a high rate of binge-drinking by teens in our state compared to the rest of the nation."

Positive note

On a positive note, North Dakota has the lowest high school dropout rate.

Minnesota has ranked first overall as recently as 2007 and consistently has been in the top four. Only New Hampshire ranks higher this year.

"Minnesota has always done a good job investing in programs to support children and families," said Kara Arzamendia of the Minnesota office. "But we like to focus on trends.

"Our benchmark since 2000 shows that the percentage of children in poverty has grown 33 percent, which means 40,000 more children. Poverty has tentacles reaching out to other places like health care, nutrition and safe housing."

The statistics used for this year's rankings come from 2007.

"So, we don't know the full effect of the economic downturn," Arzamendia said. "Things likely are not getting better."

The Kids Count data book shows that 900,000 more children nationally are living in poverty than in 2000. The data is collected by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The 10 indicators of well-being cover health, economic security and educational attainment. The statistics used include dropout rate, single-parent families, parental employment, teen birth rate, poverty rate, infant mortality rate and child and teen death rates.

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