Utah, a state that promotes the notion that children are No. 1, ranks No. 3 nationwide in a state-by-state status report on the well-being of kids.
The state ranks in the top 10 on seven of 10 measures of how children are doing, according to the 2009 Kids Count data book released Tuesday. Utah is first in both the percentage of children living in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment and in the share of children in single-parent families.
Utah ranks fourth in both the infant-mortality and child-poverty rates, compared with other states. It is seventh in the percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds who were not in school and not working; eighth in the percent of low-birthweight babies and ninth in the teen death rate, according to 20th annual accounting conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Because of the lag time between data gathering and publication, the poverty measures do not represent the negative effects of the economic downturn that began in 2007 and got serious in 2008, the report's authors state in summing up the findings in the data book.
Utah data on children in poverty will be released in September by Voices for Utah Children, said Terry Haven, Kids Count director for the child-advocacy and research nonprofit based in Salt Lake.
According to the new data book, a downward trend in Utah's teen birth rate in the first half of the decade has jumped by 3 percent, with a rate of 34 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19.
Utah is among 41 states nationwide that report an increase in teen birth rates, what Laura Beavers, national Kids Count project coordinator, called a "truly disturbing shift," given that improvements were made in six of the 10 child-welfare indicators.
Many of the indicators of child well-being show very little change from year to year, Haven said. However, teen pregnancies and its leading statistical correlate, chlamydia infection rates, are showing "troubling trends."
In Utah, where births are tracked for girls ages 15 to 17, the rate is up for the third year in a row, despite ongoing public education campaigns on the adverse effects and life-changing consequences of teen sexual activity.
Between 2004 and 2007, the Utah teen birth rate increased by 26 percent.
Research shows that children born to teen mothers are more likely to suffer poor health, experience learning problems, live in poverty and become teen mothers themselves, she said. "If this trend continues, what's around the corner for Utah's teens may not be as promising as we'd like."
The rate of chlamydia infection "continues to soar," Haven said, up by 20 percent between 2004 and 2006 and another 13 percent between 2006 and 2007.
"While the rankings are interesting, they don't give service providers or government policymakers an accurate account of the number of children who will need intervention," Haven said.
To help front-line advocates, activists and government leaders, including family-services agencies and mayors of cities with higher rates of teen births, poverty and other social detractors of child well-being, appearing with the new data book is an expanded Kids Count Data Center, an online bank of hundreds of measures of child well-being, down to the county and city level.
The data center will be updated as soon as information is gathered, rather than being limited in circulation to the annual publication.
Midvale, for example, relies on the data to assess and make improvements in programs for children there, said Mayor JoAnn Seghini. "Because many of the reports are available down to the ZIP Code, we've been able to isolate risk factors in geographic areas. With more immediate data available, we will be able to identify and intervene with health solutions."
Utah has a head start in some areas of what the foundation is using the annual data book for, as a stage for what it calls a "much-needed data revolution," Haven said.
In the key area of tracking the arc of health and health care of children, the Utah All Payer Database is a new initiative to create a statewide collection of claims, in order to track health-care episodes and outcomes from diagnosis, testing, primary care and inpatient hospitalization, surgery, follow-up and medications.
"For the first time, we'll be able to see the complete costs of taking care of a conditions such as a pregnancy or following a child with asthma," Haven said. "Given the debate about the cost and quality of health care in general, this is critical to making long-term, sustained policy decisions about health-care reform."