BENNINGTON — Due to ongoing policies and various state, federal and local initiatives, the ranking of Vermont children's overall well-being has jumped from 22nd to 10th in the nation.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy in Baltimore, Md., was established in 1948 and works to strengthen families and rebuild communities. It released its Kids Count data book on state trends of children's well-being on June 21.
It focused on families and children, noting that the status of a parent will directly impact their offspring. Well-being was broken down into basic demographics, employment and income, public assistance, poverty, family structure, birth outcomes, health insurance, and safety and risk behaviors.
Vermont ranked six under Connecticut and above New Jersey for overall well-being; 10 for economic well-being; five for educational achievement; 10 for health and being insured. Along with Massachusetts, Vermont has the lowest rate, 2 percent, of children without health coverage, which has been a steady 1 to 2 percent difference since 2008, according to Sarah Teel, research director for Voices for Vermont's Children.
"We have a really high rate of making sure kids have health insurance," she said. "For their own health and families overall economic stability, if your child breaks an arm, it won't throw your whole family into a crisis. Historically we've had a strong commitment to children. Even where our child poverty rate is higher, it's still much lower than other states. The bar is set relatively low in our country. Overall, it's higher than other industrialized countries, even at its best."
While other characteristics improved, children in poverty falls behind. The Kids Count data center states that the poverty threshold for a family of two adults and two children in 2014 was $24,008 and $16,317 for a single parent with one child. That year, Bennington ranked second in the state with 19.2 percent in poverty and Essex having the highest of 26.1 percent. Caledonia had 19 percent, Addison had 12.5 percent and Chittenden had 11.2 percent. However, in 2010 Bennington had 21.2 percent in poverty, demonstrating progress made within the last six years.
Teel cited the Great Recession as a reason for existing economic challenges amongst Vermont families.
"Imagine a child growing up during the recession, something that lasts five to seven years," she said. "That's a huge portion of their childhood. All of these factors, you can help them get through it without deprivation."
These factors include Dr. Dynasaur health insurance, 3SquaresVT, formerly known as food stamps, and Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
While dental care is an immediate issue for county residents, Teel said that a bill has just passed to authorize dental therapists to perform tooth fillings. Primary care doctors can also get trained to apply fluoride varnish.
"There's a lot of room in policies to be creative," Teel said. "We have to make sure all of our safety net programs stay well supported and stay strong and well available to people who need them."
In the 2015 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report for Bennington County students in grades six through eight, youth assets were measured and demonstrated that the greater connection between children and their parents/family were least likely to engage in risky behaviors.
The lack of a relationship can stem from a single parent working more than one job. In 2014 in Vermont, 35 percent of children had a single parent.
"The other thing is, is that most parents are working parents, even both parents, and kids therefore have a need for childcare in the summer and after school," Teel said. "[There are] summer programs and after school programs with food and safety and the enrichment that allow all the pieces to fit together."
For the full report visit aecf.org.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.