Utah got an "A" last week in a national report. It ranked second in the KIDS COUNT Data Book, which profiles how states care for their children, based on eight reference points. The book represents the second annual study by the Center for Study of Social Policy, based in Washington, D.C.

It may be the first time an A has been given, not for excellence, but for losing ground more slowly than other states.Despite the high ranking, Utah clearly is losing ground.

Utah Children, a non-profit advocacy group that works for child well-being, was concerned by the report - and fearful that lawmakers, state officials and others would view it as a sign that Utah is doing all it should for children.

Roz McGee, director of Utah Children, presents some interesting facts that show why Utah should not be satisfied with its high ranking.

In KIDS COUNT, Utah rated well in the low percentage of out-of-wedlock births, the number of children living in poverty, infant mortality and the number of juveniles who are incarcerated.

It rated well, that is, when compared to other states. Actually, Utah lost ground in some of those very categories.

In 1980, 5.2 percent of newborns had low birth weight. Eight years later, it was 5.7 percent.

A study in 1979 showed that 10.7 percent of Utah's children lived in poverty. A decade later, that number had risen to 12.3 percent.

Bad news abounds: 3,351 children were born to teens in 1988. Almost one-third of teen mothers got delayed prenatal care or did without it entirely.

The state did a little better in reducing its infant mortality rate, child death rate, juvenile incarceration rate (77 per 100,000 youths in '87) and in the percentage of children who graduated from high school.

Nationwide, child deaths went down in the '80s; otherwise, it was a rough decade for children.

There's some irony in the report. Recently, I wrote about goals set by the president and the Department of Health and Human Services. They are the blueprint for what America wants to achieve for children by the year 2000. I don't think we'll make it.

Utah Children produced Key Facts About Children in Utah last year. McGee points to some of the figures as a more concrete view of what it's like to be a child in this state.

In 1989, about 82,000 children lived below the federal poverty guideline. The number's so big it's almost incomprehensible. Last year, about 100,000 children had no health insurance. In 1988, 287 infants died and 150 children suffered injury-related deaths. The state conducted more than 12,000 child-abuse investigations and there were 1,846 verified cases of child sexual abuse.

McGee and other advocates for children hope Utah lawmakers will get the message when they set legislative and budget priorities this year. In a press release dated Feb. 1, they asked lawmakers to fund early intervention services for handicapped toddlers up to age 3. Need exceeds current programming.

The release also asked lawmakers to increase the state's contribution to Medicaid, targeted specifically to buy health care for children. For every dollar Utah puts in, the federal government provides about $3.

Grants for Aid to Families with Dependent Children should also be increased, according to advocates. A family of four receives $470, less than half the federal poverty level.

Foster parents receive only six hours of training before they take responsibility for children who sometimes have complex problems. They receive no respite from that responsibility, and burnout is common. Utah Children wants increased training and respite.

Another issue is money the state pays for child care for low-income parents trying to become self-sufficient. Because of reimbursement rates, many care providers won't accept these children.

The final request is for $1 million to pay schools for the waivers they grant to low-income students, grades 7-12, to take part in school activities. Law demands schools waive activity fees, but schools are reluctant because they don't get paid back for it.

I don't see how anyone could argue with the value of these budget requests.

If they're funded, I'll be pleased but surprised. Besides our long history of caring - at least intellectually - about our children, we've earned another reputation.

Because there's never enough money, we are a state that runs from crisis to crisis, slapping bandages on deep wounds. These suggestions don't fit in. They make too much sense from a preventive viewpoint.