Although children in Utah have been relegated to after-thought status in state politics and spending, they are generally healthier, safer and slightly better off financially than they were 10 years ago, according to a report released by Voices for Utah Children.

The child-welfare advocacy group did a wide-ranging review of data gathered during the past decade and found that child deaths have declined by 36 percent, births to teen mothers have declined by 37 percent and the number of married-couple households with children has increased slightly.

The report, titled "Then and Now," also shows that despite notable improvements, thousands of children go to bed hungry and can't go to the doctor when necessary.

"All in all, the past 10 years have been a mixed bag for our children," said Terry Haven, director of surveys for Voices. "There have been obvious and effective decisions made on their behalf," she said.

The numbers are a testament that campaigns for wearing seat belts and driver education improvements have been effective, she said. Most child deaths in the state are teens involved in automobile accidents, and the rate of teens using seat belts has increased to 52 percent, compared with 30 percent a decade ago.

While some of the statistics are double-digit improvements, some of the findings are mitigated by less than positive trends. The number of suicides is down significantly, but the number of attempts has risen. Haven said being better at intervention or stopping suicides doesn't explain the continuing high rate of attempts.

Births to teen mothers dropped by more than a third, but rates for the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia have doubled. Pregnancies are being prevented, but kids are not abstaining and may not fully understand the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, said Dr. David Sundwall, the state's health department director.

While the Utah unemployment rate is lower and median family incomes have risen, poverty has risen slightly for children and the population as a whole, according to the report. Part of that could be due to the increase in population. During the past 10 years, Utah's population grew by nearly 470,000, and the child population grew by 91,000.

The number of children who don't have medical coverage increased. Even with the Children's Health Insurance Program, whose reauthorization is currently before Congress, 10 percent of Utah kids don't have coverage. Seven percent were in that category 10 years ago.

The full report is available on line at www.utahchildren.org.


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