Salt Lake City, UT.    –   Utah ranks sixth in the nation when it comes to children’s well being, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book from The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The annual report released Wednesday shows fewer children in Utah are living in poverty than the nation on average.

And Utah school children outrank much of the U.S. in reading and math scores, and graduation rates.

But Terry Haven, deputy director of Voices for Utah Children, says on the Data Book’s 16 indicators of economics, education, health and family, the state still lags in some areas.

“For the most part, we improved on all of them, except for the health arena, and that I think is cause for concern,” she states.

The number of low birth-weight babies is increasing in Utah, as is the rate of child and teen deaths.

Haven says lawmakers should consider expanding the state’s mental health services and school outreach programs to address an increase in teen suicides.

The rate of Utah children without health insurance sits at 6 percent, compared to the national average of 4 percent.

Haven says states that have expanded access to Medicaid have fewer uninsured children, even though the program targets adults.

“The reality is that we know that when children’s parents are insured, that children are more likely to be insured,” she states.

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy with the Casey Foundation, says getting accurate counts in the upcoming 2020 census will be critical to ensuring children nationwide get access to the government services they need.

“There’s about 4.5 million young children who live in neighborhoods where there’s a high risk of missing kids in the count,” she points out. “And it’s important because the census will inform federal spending for the next decade. We really just have one shot to do this right.”

Utah receives more than $1 billion in funding each year based on Census numbers, but Voices for Utah Children estimates about 9 percent of Utah children are at risk for being uncounted in the next Census.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service