Study ranks isles 20th
in nation in child welfare
Teen birth and child death rates
are down, but school dropout
numbers are rising
Hawaii ranks 20th among the states in child well-being, a slight improvement over last year's 22nd-place ranking but lower than in previous years, according to a state-by-state comparison released today.
"It means that we're certainly not at the bottom," said Sylvia Yuen, director of the University of Hawaii's Center on the Family. "But I think that we should have higher aspirations for ourselves. We should be No. 1."
The "2004 Kids Count" data book, issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, uses 10 indicators from infant mortality to school dropout rates to determine an overall ranking for each state. The data in the new report are from 2001 and show trends since 1996, when Hawaii placed 14th in the nation.
Fewer teens are having babies in Hawaii, with 20 births per 100,000 females aged 15 to 17 in 2001, a drop from the 27 reported in 1996. The national figure has declined at about the same rate, but remains higher than Hawaii's, at 25 in 2001, down from 33 in 1996.
Hawaii and the nation have also lowered the death rate among children and teenagers, the report shows. There were 16 deaths per 100,000 children aged 1 to 14 in Hawaii in 2001 compared with 21 in 1996. Meanwhile, the national average dropped to 22 from 26.
But the state should be concerned about the number of youth who are having trouble making a successful transition from childhood to adulthood, the report suggests.
On two teen indicators, Hawaii's condition is worsening while the U.S. average is improving. The percentage of high school dropouts jumped to 7 percent in 2001 from 5 percent in 1996 in Hawaii, while the U.S. figure declined to 9 percent from 10 percent. At the same time, the percent of teens aged 16 to 19 who are not attending school and not working climbed to 10 percent in Hawaii from 9 percent, while the U.S. average improved to 8 percent from 9 percent.
"These data are warning signs that we need to pay closer attention to our youth," said Marika Ripke, project director for Hawaii Kids Count, coordinated by the Center on the Family at UH. "Many are already experiencing difficulty finding a productive role in society. They are not in school and not working. These 'disconnected youth' will find it hard to successfully navigate the transition to adulthood."
Yuen said there's been a lot of attention paid to early life stages, "but there has been almost no attention paid to the fact that there are other transition points in life."
Hawaii's infant mortality rate is creeping up, while the nation's is declining, although Hawaii's figures are still better than the national average. Hawaii had 6.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, up from 5.8 five years earlier. Meanwhile, the U.S. figure declined to 6.8 from 7.3.
The top state in child well-being is Minnesota, followed by New Hampshire and New Jersey. At the other end of the spectrum, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi ranked 48th, 49th and 50th respectively.
The full report is available at www.aecf.org/kidscount/databook2004 .