Michigan remains in bottom half of states for child well-being

By: - August 9, 2022 3:11 am

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After seeing a small improvement last year, Michigan children remain in the bottom half of states when it comes to their well-being.

That’s according to several indicators in the 2022 Kids Count Data Book, released Monday by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. The 50-state report of recent household data analyzed how children and families are faring. Overall, Michigan ranked 32 out of 50, a slide from 2021’s ranking of 28, and a return to where the state ranked in 2020.

Each year, the report ranks states based on national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors. 

Michigan’s best ranking was in Health, coming in at 27th overall, and fourth-best in the country, thanks to a 40% decline in the number of kids without health insurance from 2008-12 to 2016-20. 

The state’s lowest national ranking was in education, at 40th in the country. In between, were rankings of 29th in economic well-being and family and community context.

For the first time, youth mental health was the main focus of this year’s Kids County which concurred with a recent assessment by the U.S. surgeon general that conditions amount to a mental health pandemic for youth, who are struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels. 

“Just as the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare a lot of challenges and policy needs facing Michigan kids, the surgeon general’s naming of a youth ‘mental health pandemic’ should open people’s eyes to what our kids are going through right now,” said Kelsey Perdue, Kids Count in Michigan Director for the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP). “The state has rightly recognized these increased mental health challenges and increased related investment accordingly, including in the 2023 state budget, but there’s still much more that needs to be done to tackle this anxiety and depression crisis.”

Nationwide, children were more likely to encounter anxiety or depression during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis than had previously been the case. The report noted a 26% increase, jumping from 9.4% of children ages 3-17 (5.8 million kids) to 11.8% (7.3 million) between 2016 and 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

In Michigan, the report found 13.5% of children ages 3 to 17 struggled with anxiety or depression in 2020, up more than 13% from 2016, or 22,000 additional children struggling to make it through the day. That was higher than the national average and in more than 33 other states and the District of Columbia. 

Even more troubling, racial and ethnic disparities led to disproportionately worse mental health and wellness conditions among children of color. While the national average of high school students attempting suicide in the year prior to the pandemic was 9%, it was 12% for Black students, 13% for students of two or more races and 26% for American Indian or Native Alaskan high schoolers.

The statistics were even worse for LGBTQ+ students, with 23% of gay, lesbian or bisexual students attempting suicide. That’s almost four times more likely than the 6% of heterosexual high school students of all races and ethnicities who attempted to do so.

With those sobering numbers in mind, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is calling on lawmakers to respond to the surgeon general’s warning and develop programs and policies that will help ease mental health burdens on children and their families. 

Among its recommendations are:

  • Prioritize meeting kids’ basic needs. Youth who grow up in poverty are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than their peers. Children need a solid foundation of nutritious food, stable housing and safe neighborhoods — and their families need financial stability — to foster positive mental health and wellness.
  • Ensure every child has access to the mental health care they need, when and where they need it. Schools should increase the presence of social workers, psychologists and other mental health professionals on staff and strive to meet the 250-to-1 ratio of students to counselors recommended by the American School Counselor Association, and they can work with local health care providers and local and state governments to make additional federal resources available and coordinate treatment.
  • Bolster mental health care that takes into account young people’s experiences and identities. It should be trauma-informed — designed to promote a child’s healing and emotional security — and culturally relevant to the child’s life. It should be informed by the latest evidence and research and should be geared toward early intervention, which can be especially important in the absence of a formal diagnosis of mental illness.

Monday’s national Kids County release comes on the heels of last month’s MLPP’s 2022 Kids Count in Michigan Data Profiles intended to identify state and county trends in four categories: economic security, education, health and safety, and family and community.

Monique Stanton, MLPP President and CEO, said Michigan policymakers and child advocates should use this national, state and local data to evaluate past policy and investment decisions and identify ongoing areas of need for Michigan kids and families.

“Year after year, Michigan stands out in children’s health and in making sure our kids have health insurance in particular,” said Stanton. “This progress is due to positive policy decisions, and we hope policymakers will strengthen our support and national standing even more by expanding health coverage to up to 4,000 lawfully residing children, a priority of the League’s and a recent recommendation from the Michigan Poverty Task Force.”

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.

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