Written by The Herald-News
According to the data, in general Montana is a good place to raise kids. The latest edition of the Montana KIDS COUNT Data Book was released recently and details information such as access to education and health insurance coverage for children in Montana’s 56 counties.
“Overall, Montana’s children face good conditions across the spectrum,” said Thale Dillon, director of Montana KIDS COUNT at the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
Among the information included in the report, data shows:
•A growing number of Montana residents attain some level of post-secondary education, and more children live in families headed by someone with at least a high school diploma;
•more than two-thirds of families with children are married-couple families;
•teen births are well below national levels;
•juvenile offense rates, child abuse, infant mortality all are on a downward trajectory;
•motor vehicle crashes where the driver is under age 18 also are declining, and fewer youth under age 21 are involved in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes;
•and the percentage of Montana children who do not have health insurance continues to decrease.
However, though the data shows the rate of child deaths also is on a downward curve, that curve is not steep enough, Dillon said. For decades, Montana has had one of the highest child death rates in the nation. Combined with high rates of alcohol and drug abuse among youth, this distinction caused Montana to be ranked last among all the states in terms of child health in the national KIDS COUNT data book, which was released a few weeks ago.
“While there is more to child well-being than just health, when our children die at a rate that’s almost twice as high as the national average, it trumps other indicators,” Dillon said.
Montana children die at a rate of 45 per 100,000 children, while the national average is 26 per 100,000. Among the state’s many youth deaths, a large portion are preventable, with 70 percent of the deaths a result of either accidents or suicide.
The largest contributors to Montana’s accidental death rate are traffic-related deaths. Further, the majority of suicide victims are males in their late teens who take their own lives using firearms.
“Simple actions such as using a seatbelt or child-safety seat or temporarily removing the means by which someone can commit suicide make a difference in the final outcomes,” Dillon said.
Research shows that strong family connections and relationships play a vital role in keeping children safe. The Montana KIDS COUNT Data Book provides results from the bi-annual Prevention Needs Assessment survey, which indicates that communication and closeness within Montana families have improved during the past 10 years.
When children know that their parents or guardians care about them and what they do, and when there are clear rules and expectations regarding behavior, they are less likely to see risk behavior or suicide as viable options.
“This is why it’s encouraging to see a significant increase in the percentage of Montana youth who report that their parents are strongly involved in their lives,” Dillon said.