Connecticut ranks as the fifth best state in the country for children, though racial disparities persist in the state, according to an annual report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“We’re very happy to report that Connecticut has finally broken into the top five state rankings for overall child well-being,” Roger Senserrich, policy director at the Connecticut Association for Human Services, said in a statement. Connecticut ranked No. 6 on the list last year.
The Casey Foundation’s “2016 Kids Count Data Book” includes various indicators of children’s well-being. In addition to the overall ranking, the state ranked second in child health and third in education, up from No. 4 and No. 5 last year, respectively.
The report points to several encouraging trends in Connecticut.
Since 2008, the number of teens who abused drugs or alcohol has dropped from 8 percent to 5 percent, and the teen birth rate has fallen by almost half, from 23 percent in 2008 to 12 percent in 2014, the data show.
The report also found that 87 percent of high school students statewide are graduating on time, up from 82 percent in 2008. Graduation rates have also “increased dramatically” in areas that previously have struggled to retain students – in East Hartford, in particular, the graduation rate rose from 80 percent in 2011 to almost 95 percent in 2015, according to the Casey Foundation.
Those successes have come even as children in the state, and across the country, deal with a weak economy.
“This generation of teenagers and young adults are coming of age in the wake of the worst economic climate in nearly 80 years, and yet they are achieving key milestones that are critical for future success,” Casey Foundation CEO Patrick McCarthy said in a statement. “With more young people making smarter decisions, we must fulfill our part of the bargain, by providing them with the educational and economic opportunity that youth deserve.”
The Casey Foundation, based in Baltimore, is an advocacy group that works toward improvements for children at risk of poor educational, economic, social and health outcomes.
From a national perspective, teenagers born after 1995 – dubbed “Generation Z” – made steady improvements in health and education indicators, despite growing up largely amid economic uncertainty, the latest report found.
Between 2008 and 2014, nationally, teen birth rates dropped 40 percent, drug and alcohol abuse fell 38 percent, and teens not graduating on time fell 28 percent, according to the Casey Foundation. This happened even as 22 percent of children nationwide lived in poverty in 2014, a figure that was unchanged from 2013, the report found.
But in Connecticut, even amid overall gains, some children continue to face obstacles, Senserrich said.
“Despite these successes, we still see major racial inequities throughout the state which cause barriers to future success, particularly among lower-income neighborhoods like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven,” he said. “These need to be better addressed.”
In the report, the Casey Foundation offers several recommendations for policymakers to improve outcomes for children: increase access to high-quality, pre-kindergarten and early childhood services; increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers who don’t have dependent children; and provide paid family leave to help workers balance their obligations at home and in the workplace.