“While ranking 45th in child well-being is not cause for celebration when viewed alone, the fact that the state is making progress is encouraging,” said Linda Tilly, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children. “This report, coming on the heels of the Southern Regional Education Board report, ranks Alabama as the leader in the nation for improvements in reading scores. This indicates that the work of child advocates, community programs, and policymakers who make children a priority, is paying off.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation began publishing the state rankings, called “Kids Count Data Book,” in 1990. The report lists the states in regard to their performance in four areas: health, education, economic well-being and family and community.
Alabama improved in education, seeing gains in all four indicators measured in the report — areas like reading and math proficiency among fourth-graders as well as the amount of high school students graduating on time.
Walker County Schools Superintendent Jason Adkins said he believes the improvement throughout the state is due to an effort led by the state superintendent to move away from test scores being the only concern of educators.
Adkins said teachers throughout Alabama, and particularly Walker County, are using software and new techniques that allow teachers to tailor instruction to the individual needs of each student.
“As a result of that I think you’re going to see education move forward,” he said.
The state regressed, however, in the area of economic well-being. Alabama saw significant increases in the number of children whose parents lack secure employment and the number of children living in households with a high housing cost burden.
Leneda Jones, executive director of Backyard Blessings, said the trends reported in the Kids Count Data Book are in line with what she has seen. Her organization provides food to school children in east Walker County, and she said organizers have seen more parents asking for help than any previous year.
“I feel like our program is more needed now than ever,” she said.
Alabama also ranked 41st in Health, seeing a slight decrease in the incidence of low-birth weight babies, children without health insurance and children and teen deaths. No change occurred for the fourth measure, the number of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.
Alabama ranked 44th in family and community, showing a slight decrease in the number of children living in families where the head of the household lacks a high school diploma. However, the state saw increases in the number of children living in single-parent families, the number of children living in high-poverty areas and the incidence of teen births.
“The report shows both progress and challenges for Alabama,” Tilly said.