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Alaska drops in kids' status study

Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000

Alaska ranks 33rd in a nationwide study of children's well-being, with the state scoring last among states in the number of child deaths.

The state also ranks poorly in its ratio of violent teen deaths, but scores well for having relatively few low-weight babies, dropouts and children living in poverty.

The 2000 KIDS COUNT report, released last week, states Alaska had a death rate of 42 per 100,000 for children ages 1 to 14 in 1997. That is up from 30 per 100,000 in 1996, when Alaska tied for 32nd with several other states.

The national rate was 25 deaths per 100,000 in 1997.

Problems such as joy riding, reckless snowmobiling and drunk driving accidents are among the reasons Alaska's child death rate is the nation's highest, said Norm Dinges, an Anchorage resident who helps coordinate KIDS COUNT Alaska, a supplemental report. Also, he said because Alaska's population is small, a single death can change a rate dramatically.

``If you look at a small village or even a region, in some of the less populated parts of Alaska, one drowning can change a rate,'' Dinges said.

The state also finished last in 1993 with a rate of 46 deaths per 100,000, and ranked 49th in 1990 and 1995. But Alaska finished 22nd in 1991 and 27th in 1994, when the death rate reached a low of 28 per 100,000.

Dinges said the state Division of Family and Youth Services has hired extra investigators to address child abuse and neglect issues, but estimates it will take a minimum of five years - and perhaps 10 - to substantially reduce child abuse in the state.

``We have years, if not decades, of `deferred maintenance' to deal with,'' he said.

The national study, issued annually, measures 10 indicators of children's well-being. The state dropped in its overall ranking from 26th in 1996.

Among the findings:

Alaska has generally ranked among the worst states for deaths of teens ages 15 to 19 by accident, homicide or suicide, finishing 48th this year with 85 per 100,000. The state received its best ranking of 30th in 1995, when the rate was 70 per 100,000.

Alaska ranks among the best in the nation when it comes to fewest low birth-weight babies, but has lost the number one ranking it held from 1990 to 1993, when the state's rates were slightly less than 5 percent. The state ranked fifth this year with 5.9 percent of babies born at low weights in 1997, up from 5.5 percent in 1996.

The state's infant mortality rate increased from 7.2 per 1,000 live births in 1996 to 7.5 in 1997, dropping the state's rank from 24th to 30th. But the rate is well below the 10.5 deaths per 1,000 in 1990, when the state ranked 42nd.

The teen birth rate, which has generally ranked in the upper half among states, tied for 25th this year with 25 pregnancies per thousand females ages 15 to 17.

Alaska remains in the upper rank of states with the fewest dropouts of students ages 16 to 19, with the 8 percent in 1997 virtually identical with totals from previous years. The state's ranking tied for 15th this year.

The percentage of Alaskan children living with parents who do not have year-round, full-time employment has remained relative stable after declining during the early part of the decade. A total of 27 percent of children were in such households in 1997, tying Alaska for 25th with four other states.

Fifteen percent of the state's children lived in poverty in 1997, which ranks 14th in the study. The total is up from 13 percent in 1996, when the state ranked fourth, but the same as 1990, when the state finished eighth.

KIDS COUNT Alaska splits the state into seven regions and ranks each by eight indicators. Southeast Alaska comes close to the state total in four indicators: low birth weight, infant mortality, high school dropouts and crimes committed by juveniles.

Southeast Alaska falls below the rest of the state in child death rate, teen violent death rate and children in poverty.

The region exceeds the state total in crimes committed by individual juveniles. The state rate is 68 per 1,000, while the Southeast rate is 79. The Anchorage rate is 66 per 1,000. The highest rate in the state for juvenile crime is in the northern region with 110 per 1,000.

KIDS COUNT is an annual report funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization that focuses on disadvantaged children and families. Its report can be found on the Web at www.aefc.org. The KIDS COUNT Alaska Web site is www.kidscount.alaska.edu



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