- Teen Birth Rate Increases In 42 States, Including WV

- WV Still Ranked 42nd In Child Poverty

- WV 44th In Percentage Of Children Living In Families Where No Parent Had Full-Time Employment

- WV 46th In Percentage Of Low-Birthweight Babies.

National trends in child well-being taken together have improved slightly since 2000, according to a report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Meanwhile, West Virginia is showing significant improvements in child well-being.

The state is now 38th in the nation in the new state-by-state study, a strong improvement over last year's ranking of 44th in the nation.

"The picture for West Virginia's children has improved significantly. Our national ranking has gone from 44th to 38th in just one year," said Margie Hale, Executive Director of the West Virginia KIDS COUNT Fund.

"The higher overall ranking is a direct result of our improvement in nine of the ten indicators of child well-being.

Although we still have lots of work to do, especially in terms of decreasing the number of low birthweight babies, things are definitely moving in the right direction for West Virginia's children."

West Virginia's child poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2007. (A family of two adults and two children were considered poor if their annual income fell below $21,027)

But, among the 50 states, West Virginia still ranks 42nd in the percentage of children in poverty; 44th in the percentage of children living in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment; and 46th in the percentage of low-birthweight babies.

In 2006, 9.7 percent of births to West Virginia mothers were of low-birthweight (weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth). This percentage is substantially higher than it was in 2000, when it stood at 8.3 percent.

At 45 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 in 2006, the teen birth rate in West Virginia is 4 percent lower than it was in 2000.

However, it is 5 percent higher than the rate was a year earlier in 2005.

Both developments mirror nationwide trends.

Now in its 20th year, the KIDS COUNT Data Book provides information and statistical trends on the needs and conditions of America's most disadvantaged children and families.

The Data Book essay, "Counting What Counts," looks at the country's progress in keeping track of children's well-being, measuring the impact of public programs, and holding ourselves accountable for improving their futures.

The 20th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book indicators for the nation show: Six areas of improvement: infant mortality, child deaths, teen deaths, teen births, high school dropouts, and teens not in school and not working.

Four areas have worsened: low-birthweight babies, children living in families where no parent has full-time year-round employment, children in poverty, and children in single parent families.

These national trends are not on par with the well-being improvements that were seen at the end of the 1990s.

"KIDS COUNT has slightly more good news than bad for children, but there are some trends going in the wrong direction," says Laura Beavers, coordinator of the national KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.

"The poverty rate for children remains between 17 and 19 percent thus far this decade - the rate of 18 percent in 2007 means 900,000 more children are living in poverty nationally than in 2000."

The teen birth rate is trending upward after more than a decade of steady decline.

Although still below the rate in 2000, the teen birth rate increased from 40 to 42 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19 between 2005 and 2006.

The latest increase was widespread, with the teen birth rate going up in 42 states. Looking across all well-being indicators, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Utah rank highest, and Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi rank the lowest.

Five states with the biggest improvement in their rankings between 1999-2000 and 2006-07 are New York, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, and Illinois.

The six states with the biggest drops in their rankings during this same period are Montana, Maine, Alaska, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Vermont.

This year's Data Book is complemented by a new online and mobile-friendly Data Center (datacenter.kidscount.org) that contains hundreds of measures of child well-being covering national, state, county, and city information.

Users can now access geographic profiles that include information on education, economic well-being, the number of children in immigrant families, health, and many more topics.

"Access to timely and easily understood data can lead to better-informed policies, more focused programming, and more efficient use of taxpayer dollars," declares Patrick McCarthy, senior vice president of the Casey Foundation.

"Despite the temptations to cut back on government-financed systems during hard economic times, the investment in better-used data can deliver a potentially immense payoff in reduced waste and improved results for children." The essay makes the case that child outcomes could be vastly improved through better use of information and technology.

In addition, rigorous data analyses can help authorities understand and begin eliminating the racial disparities in the public systems that serve minority groups and the poor.

Casey calls on federal leaders, state and local decision makers, and children's advocates to transform how they use data to improve the lives of vulnerable children:

Leadership at the federal level by developing high-quality data systems: Key recommendations include fully funding, properly managing, and successfully promoting the 2010 Census; updating the U.S. poverty measure; increasing data collection on child and family well-being; and addressing problems in the Vital Records System.

Commitment at the state and local level by improving performance measurement:

Steps that can be taken include stronger administrative databases, improved data analysis, promotion of data-driven practice improvements, and the expansion of the use of new information technologies.

Engagement of children's advocates and other concerned leaders: Awareness and mobilization efforts include the use of data-driven advocacy; identifying critical benchmarks; and the use of neighborhood indicators and community mapping. "Better futures for children will not occur simply by combining better data, stronger data analysis, and an increased use of new technology," says Douglas W. Nelson, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation.

"It is time to make a national commitment to counting what counts in order to meet the needs and boost the outcomes for less-fortunate children.

It's time to focus on the evolving needs of the next generation of millions of children whose future well-being is on the line."

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