National trends in child well-being taken together have improved slightly since 2000, with five indicators showing at least modest improvement, even as more children are living in relative poverty in the United States than in any other economically advanced nation, a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.
According to the nineteenth annual KIDS COUNT Data Book (200 pages, PDF), five areas — the child death rate, the teen death rate, the teen birth rate, the high school dropout rate, and teens not in school and not working — showed improvement, while there was no change in the infant mortality rate. At the same time, four indicators — low-birth-weight babies, children living in families where no parent has full-time year-round employment, children living in poverty, and children living in single-parent families — worsened. The improvements in certain trends also are smaller than improvements recorded at the end of the 1990s. Looking across all indicators, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Massachusetts rank highest in terms of child well-being, while New Mexico, Louisiana, and Mississippi rank lowest.
This year's report includes an essay, "A Road Map for Juvenile Justice Reform," that discusses developments in the nation's juvenile justice systems and highlights recent research that provides the basis for urgently needed changes. In 2006, the estimated daily count of detained and incarcerated youth in juvenile justice facilities was 92,854 — most of them for non-violent offenses. The essay argues, among other things, for keeping youth out of the adult justice system, reducing incarceration, ensuring safe institutions, and eliminating racially disparate treatment.
"The state and federal government must take a much closer look at the problems that are entrenched in the juvenile justice system," said Casey Foundation president and CEO Douglas W. Nelson. "These problems often include harsh or abusive conditions, pervasive disparities in the treatment of youth by race and ethnicity, and disproportionate sanctions for minor and predictable misbehavior. We know — and there is evidence to prove — that with effective interventions, system reforms, and more effective policies, the system can produce better outcomes for young people."