Utah is now the ninth best state to raise a child, according to rankings released Tuesday by the Children's Rights Council.
But the trouble is that last year, it ranked Utah No. 6. And the year before that, it ranked Utah No. 1 in the nation."Utah's going in the wrong direction," said David L. Levy, president of the council.
It based the new rankings on 11 criteria (from government and academic studies) ranging from a state's child mortality rate to its rates of unwed parents, poverty and high school graduation.
Why is Utah dropping in the overall rankings?
"It appears that's because Utah has a relatively high crime rate - only 33rd lowest in the nation - and a high rate of drug-induced deaths - 35th in the nation," Levy told the Deseret News.
Levy said that if Utah had not done so poorly in those two categories, it would have finished much higher in the overall rankings.
"Finishing ninth is still great. It's wonderful. But it shows the state could do better," he said.
"Utah should look at what other states are doing in the areas where it is doing poorly, and maybe copy them," he said. "The whole purpose of a study like this is to foster some friendly competition among the states for improvement."
Terry Haven, Kids Count coordinator working with Utah Children, said she is not surprised by this latest report.
"I think Utah's still a great place to raise kids, but there are some areas that we want to ignore and if we keep ignoring them, they will get worse," she said.
Kids Count is a private Baltimore-based foundation that funds a project in each state, and in this area it finances Utah Children. Kids Count also gathers its own national and local statistics and released its report in May.
"We are seeing in our data a drop in violent crime committed by kids but increases in areas that may lead to violent crimes. We're seeing more misdemeanors, drug possession and DUI arrests," Haven said.
Those signs could be foreshadowing more violent behavior to come unless policymakers take heed.
"It's something we need to watch. Reports like that (by the Children's Rights Council) and the ones that we do say, `Let's look at this before it gets worse.' "
Haven said all statistics must be studied to see how valid they are, but once their validity is confirmed, then policymakers must pay attention and address these issues.
"We don't need to panic," she said, but she added that such reports are "a nice tool" to begin discussion on how to help children.
The Kids Count report for Utah Children released in May showed that Utah dropped in ranking from the previous year in these areas: the percent of low birth weight babies, child death rate, teen birth rate, high school dropouts and percentage of teens not attending school and not working.
Levy said other states should also look at what Utah is doing in several areas where it leads the nation.
For example, he noted that Utah finished No. 1 in the nation for having the lowest number of births to unwed mothers and for having the lowest number of single parents.
It also finished No. 3 in the nation for having the lowest number of children in poverty (according to the Census Bureau); No. 7 for the highest high school graduation rate; No. 8 for lowest infant mortality rate; and No. 14 for lowest number of alcohol-induced deaths.
Areas where it did not do so well - besides crime and drug-induced deaths - included its divorce rate, No. 25 in the nation; and its death rate for children older than infants, no. 31 in the nation.
Levy said his group uses those categories because "we feel these are the best indicators of how well a state provides a child-friendly environment."
Iowa was ranked No. 1 overall as the best place to raise a child this year. It did not finish No. 1 in any individual category (as Utah did twice) but finished no lower than 13th in any category - and usually finished in the top 10.
Others in the top 10 in order were: Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Massachusetts, North Dakota, South Dakota, Maine, Utah and Vermont.
The District of Columbia finished 51st and at the bottom of the rankings. It also finished last in eight of the 11 individual categories measured, including the rates of crime, infant mortality, child mortality, children in poverty, teen-age pregnancy, births to unwed parents, single parents, and alcohol-induced deaths.
Other states in the bottom 10 included (in order from the bottom): New Mexico, Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida, Nevada, South Carolina and Georgia.
Best States to Raise a Child
BEST STATES WORST STATES
1. Iowa 51. Dist. of Columbia
2. Minnesota 50. New Mexico
3. New Hampshire 49. Arizona
4. Nebraska 48. Mississippi
5. Massachusetts 47. Louisiana
6. North Dakota 46. Tennessee
7. South Dakota 45. Florida
8. Maine 44. Nevada
9. Utah 42. South Carolina*
10. Vermont 42. Georgia*
SOURCE: Children's Rights Council