The fortunes of children in Missouri are improving -- just not fast enough.
New numbers updating Missouri’s KIDS COUNT report provide some hopeful news, if incremental gains can bring any satisfaction. But some 250,000 children statewide still live in poverty and are food insecure.
And the rate of vulnerable children rose in Jackson County, St. Louis city and many poor rural counties.
The state and Kansas City-area counties saw improvements for children in most areas, including economic well-being, education and many health indicators. But fortunes have worsened in children’s mental health: suicide rates are up, as are hospitalizations for substance abuse and for mental and behavioral distress.
The disturbing trend carried across the state, including Jackson, Clay and Platte counties.
KIDS COUNT reports, published by University of Missouri’s Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis and by the Family and Community Trust, have served as a barometer for more than two decades, spurring policymakers, legislators and service providers to action.
The data is also available through the new KIDS COUNT app.
The 2019 report, with data from 2017, measured trends against state numbers in 2013.
While some 250,000 children may still live in poverty in the state, that number is down by more than 50,000 since 2013 -- an 18-percent drop.
The rate of children in poverty fell from 22.2 percent to 20.0 percent overall. Jackson County’s rate fell from 24.3 percent to 20.7 percent.
Jackson County remains one of the poorest-ranked counties in the state for the status of its children. Jackson’s composite score ranked 103rd among the state’s 115 counties in the 2019 report -- up from 105 in the 2015 report.
Clay County was ranked No. 10 overall in both 2019 and 2015.
Platte County rose to No. 2 statewide in 2019, from No. 3 in 2015.
The rate of hardships on children rose among families of color. Overall, black children and Hispanic children are healthier and in better economic situations since 2013, but are still more than twice as likely as white children to be food insecure or hospitalized.
According to the report, 37.6 percent of black children statewide lived in poverty in 2017, down from 42.8 percent in 2013. For Hispanic children, the rate fell from 32.2 percent to 22 percent over the same span. Among white children, the rate fell from 17.4 percent to 14.3 percent.
The economic well-being gains were in part offset by the rise in mental health concerns statewide.
The suicide rate between 2013 and 2017 rose from 2.8 to 4.9 per 100,000 children. The rate of hospitalization for substance abuse measured over four years preceding 2011 and 2016 rose from 19.7 to 22.2 per 100,000 children.
Hospitalization rates over the same span for mental and behavioral health crises rose from 9.2 to 10.3.
The Missouri KIDS COUNT Data Book is a collaborative project of the Family and Community Trust, the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis at the University of Missouri and more than 20 public and private organizations across the state including the Local Investment Commission. CTF and the Annie E. Casey Foundation provide the primary funding for the data book and data tool.