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Why Connecticut's top-10 ranking in child well-being may not be all good news

Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
With Hartford public schools closed in March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, students from the Expeditionary Learning Academy at Moylan School were served meals by Food & Child Nutrition Services at Samuel Valentin Arroyo Recreation Center in Pope Park. The 2022 Kids Count Data Book describes how trauma brought on by the coronavirus has created a mental health crisis for America’s children.

Every year, an NPR underwriter, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, produces the Kids Count report. The report ranks states according to the level of well-being enjoyed by their children. The ranking is based on health, education, family and community, and economic well-being.

In this year’s report, Connecticut ranks seventh out of 50 states. Connecticut Voices for Children collaborated with the Annie E. Casey Foundation for this report.

To give context, Connecticut Voices for Children Executive Director Emily Byrne joined "All Things Considered."

She was in no mood to celebrate Connecticut's lofty ranking. She considers Connecticut's ranking a relic of the recent past instead of a reflection of current conditions in the state.

Interview highlights:

What are your thoughts on the report’s results?

Emily Byrne: Our general response to this year’s count confirms what we've long feared -- that without significant investments in family economic security, Connecticut will continue to lag behind the country's recovery as a whole. And this has very real consequences for our children.

So for example, 13% of children in Connecticut lived in poverty in 2012. And that proportion has not changed in 2020. And by all accounts, that type of status quo is not good.

And unfortunately, we’ve been seeing that stagnation across the board as it relates to the Kids Count data.

Connecticut has ranked 44th in the nation of housing cost burden, which is pretty close to the bottom. And we rank 22nd in the nation for youth obesity. It’s important to lift up that there is a statistically significant relationship between childhood body mass index and food insecurity. And then the third kind of big, low point for us in Connecticut was [the state’s ranking] in terms of teen death rates.

Connecticut being ranked seventh doesn’t quite jibe with what you’re seeing. And toward that point, I understand the report uses data from 2019 and 2020. It’s not using any data past that point. So obviously, a lot has happened since then; how relevant and applicable is this older data to the current situation for children in Connecticut today?

Byrne: It’s a great snapshot of where the state was in 2020. And we all know, from our own experiences, that things have actually gotten a little bit worse because of the pandemic and the pandemic-induced recession. I think a lot of this is because Connecticut’s slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 was actually at lower levels than the rest of the country. And so we’re seeing kind of the effects of that. I think the real data that we're curious to see will be next year, and even the year after, when we’re able to see the rankings for the state during the recession, during the pandemic.

These interview highlights have been edited for clarity.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. In his 20th year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.
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