N.H. Drops to 4th, Vt. Stays No. 2 in Child Well-Being Survey

Montpelier — Vermont kept its No. 2 national ranking in the well-being of the state’s children, ranking highly on education, family and community factors, according to statistics compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

New Hampshire has dropped from its traditional top spot to fourth.

The Foundation’s 2014 Kids Count report released today measures 16 indicators from four groups that measure a child’s well-being: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

The report, now in its 25th year, showed 10 indicators where Vermont improved over the 2013 report and three where it worsened. Three others were unchanged. The state ranked third in education, family and community while economic well-being improved a spot from ninth to eighth.

The only category that dropped from the 2013 report to this year’s was Vermont’s health ranking, which fell to sixth from fourth. Even so, three of the four measures in the health category showed improvement: children without health insurance, child and teen deaths and percentage of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs. The fourth category, low-birth-weight babies, was unchanged.

“We have to be careful about assuming that our relatively high rank means we don’t need to improve,” said Sarah Teel, the research associate for Voices for Vermont’s Children, which distributes the national Kids Count data book in Vermont. “Our progress is an opportunity to look at where policies have made a positive difference and expand and protect those approaches.”

New Hampshire made improvements in education, health and safety, but its child poverty rate grew from 9 percent to 16 percent. Nationally, the percentage of children living in poverty grew from 19 percent to 23 percent over a nine year period.

New Hampshire also scored worse in several other categories in 2012 compared with 2005, including children whose parents lack secure employment and children living in households with burdensome housing costs. In most of those areas, the national picture also worsened.

New Hampshire Deputy Health Director Anna Thomas said the breaking point for her was when the percentage of children enrolled in the free or reduced-price lunch program hit 50 percent.

“Every year, we monitor these statistics and they keep adding up. What’s even more unsettling is, in Manchester, our statistics always seem to be at least double the state numbers,” she said.

In this year’s report, Massachusetts led the country, followed by Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire — which fell from first place in 2013 — and Minnesota. Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi had the lowest rankings. Vermont ranked second in 2013, third in 2012 and fourth in 2011.