Kids count in North Dakota
This story is a condensed version of the original article that appeared in the October 2011 issue of North Dakota LIVING Magazine. You can receive North Dakota LIVING for only $14.50 per year. Subscribe by clicking on the advertisement above.
by Danielle Hance
North Dakota has a reputation for caring for our children. In fact, North Dakota has almost always ranked among the top 10 states for child well-being, according to more than two decades of national KIDS COUNT data.
While North Dakota ranks 10th in the nation for child well-being this year, we should not be complacent, says North Dakota KIDS COUNT Program Director Polly Fassinger.
“Other states have been improving, and we’re not,” she says. “It’s not as if our kids our going downhill, but they are being left behind in that sense.”
Health care is one area in which North Dakota has fallen behind. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, offers health assistance to low-income children. North Dakota has one of the lowest levels of eligibility (160 percent of poverty), Fassinger says.
North Dakota is ranked favorably in low birthweight babies and secure parental employment. Most babies are being born with healthy birthweights. With a healthy economy, most parents have jobs, and our percent of single-parent homes is below the national average. These are all factors that North Dakotans can celebrate.
“North Dakota’s well-being of children is very good,” says Richard Rathge, policy analyst with North Dakota KIDS COUNT. “We are ranked very highly compared to the national standards.”
Areas of concern include our child and teen death rates as well as our infant mortality rate. While examining the statistics alone can be a daunting task, the team at North Dakota KIDS COUNT has the expertise to make sense of the data. They offer impartial interpretation of the data to anyone interested in understanding it. This can be a valuable tool since most people base their judgments based on a smaller number of children in their area.
North Dakota’s demographics tell a unique story. The American Indian population has the highest birth rate, yet the counties in which most American Indians reside are not doing as well as most of the rest of the state. This could make a case for working harder for the well-being of American Indian children, Fassinger says.
In looking at the data by county, it is evident that areas of energy development have increasing high school dropout rates and more child abuse and neglect, Rathge says. The data can open the eyes of officials in those areas to make changes.
In rural areas, declines in population cause child welfare to be much more costly.
“With fewer children, it is harder to provide resources,” Rathge says.
He also cautions people to analyze the data carefully, especially in sparsely populated areas.
“The birth rate in Slope County might be one birth in one year,” he says. “If someone has twins, the number doubles. This data is easily misconstrued.”
With all this in mind, Rathge and Fassinger hope North Dakota KIDS COUNT will help decision-makers to lead wisely by using KIDS COUNT data.
“What pleases us is when the information is used to change policy and when indicators go in a positive direction,” Rathge says.
Danielle Hance resides in Fargo. She enjoys reading, making music and going on mission trips when she is not busy writing.
To learn more...
To see the North Dakota KIDS COUNT data, visit www.ndkidscount.org. Data for the entire country can be found at www.datacenter.kidscount.org. Find North Dakota Kids Count on Facebook at www.facebook.com/#!/ndkidsc