Health

Iowa ranks high on child well-being report, though youth death rate inched up

With the death rate fluctuates year to year, the number of suicide deaths in Iowa has gradually increased since 2000

Mike Crawford is the director of Kids Count, at the Iowa Child and Family

Policy Center in Des Moines
Mike Crawford is the director of Kids Count, at the Iowa Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines

While children’s overall well-being continues to improve in Iowa, the state’s child and teen death rate is worse than it was in 2010, according to an Annie E. Casey Foundation report published Monday.

The state still is one of the best in the nation for children. The 2019 Kids Count Data Book ranked Iowa the third-best for kids.

The annual report ranks states on 16 indicators of youths’ economic well-being, education, family and community, and health.

The child and teen death rate is Iowa’s only deteriorating factor in the report. It was 27 per 100,000 in 2017, the year most data in the 2019 report was collected. In 2010, the report’s baseline year, the rate was 24 per 100,000.

Mike Crawford, Iowa Kids Count director, said children and teen deaths can be largely explained by three causes: automobile incidents, suicide and opioid overdoses.

Iowa youth’s death rate tends to ebb and flow, said John Jungling, an Iowa Department of Public Health analyst who provided data for the Kids Count report.

“The preliminary numbers for 2018 are on their way back down,” Jungling said. “Because the number of child deaths are fairly small, any change seems like a big change.”

Suicide deaths among youths increases

The number of suicide deaths in Iowa has increased gradually since 2000, said Pat McGovern, the Iowa Department of Public Health’s suicide prevention director. In 2000, 286 Iowa residents died by suicide. In 2017, 476 did.

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The increase holds for young Iowans: 32 residents ages 15 to 19 died by suicide in 2017, up from 26 in 2000; and seven children 14 and younger died by suicide, compared with three in 2000.

“What can we do with resources to target them to help reverse that trajectory? It’s not so easy,” McGovern said.

Suicide and its prevention are complicated, he said, though he hopes work throughout the state to remove the stigma of mental health will appear soon in the data.

“It’s OK to talk about these things — that can play a benefit not just in suicide prevention but in mental health in general,” he said.

“When we can start talking about it like cancer or diabetes or the flu or pneumonia, it normalizes it and makes it more acceptable.”

Anyone in need of free and confidential help or support can call Your Life Iowa’s suicide hotline at 855-581-8111.

Crawford said that while opioid use and suicide among young people have increased, about 85 percent of youth deaths in Iowa are the result of traffic incidents.

Most youth deaths in Iowa are the result of traffic crashes

“Being more of a rural state, kids are driving to and from home to school and from home to events,” said Crawford, who is a senior associate at the Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines.

“Those are longer distances than kids living in towns and at higher speeds, which allows for more of a chance of a fatality.”

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Pat Hoyt, chief of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, said traffic fatalities are the leading cause of youth deaths across the country. That remains the case in Iowa, despite a decline in overall traffic fatalities and an increase in seat belt and restraint use.

“Six in 10 teen crashes involve distracted driving,” Hoyt said, noting his office has media and educational awareness campaigns on that topic. “ ... We’re trying to put a lot of attention into distracted driving. Of course, the old standards are always buckle up, and any kind of impairment is dangerous for teens. You’re taking the impairment plus inexperience, which can be deadly.”

Other factors measured for health of Iowa youth

The report measured the health of Iowa youth on three other factors:

• The percentage of babies born with a low birth weight has improved from 7 percent in 2010 to 6.6 percent. The national rate is 8.3 percent.

• The percentage of children without health insurance has dropped from 4 percent to 3 percent in Iowa. The national rate is 5 percent.

• The percentage of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs has declined from 5 percent to 4 percent in Iowa. The national rate is 4 percent.

Last year, Iowa ranked fifth overall. The state is regularly in the Top 10, Crawford said.

“Being in the top echelon is a good thing. The bad that comes with that is people become complacent,” he said.

“It’s true for most kids, but particularly for kids in the minority or living in poverty or developing issues — that’s where the changes in policy need to take place.

“For the whole, probably three-quarters of the kids in the state, things are fine. They’re being raised in a nice environment.

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“But there are about 20 (percent) to 25 percent of kids who are not getting everything they need.”

Economic well-being of Iowa kids is good

The economic status of Iowa kids is better than almost anywhere in the United States. Bested only by North Dakota, Iowa has improved in all four economic markers — as has the national rate on all four metrics — judged in the report.

• Only 12 percent of Iowa youth live in poverty, down from 16 percent in 2010. The national rate is 18 percent.

• Nineteen percent have parents without secure employment, down from 25 percent in 2010. The national rate is 27 percent.

• Nineteen percent are living in households with a high housing cost burden, down from 27 percent in 2010. The national rate is 31 percent.

• Just 5 percent of teens are not in school and not working, down from 6 percent in 2010. The national rate is 7 percent.

To continue improvement, Crawford said “it’s important not only to bring in jobs that pay a minimum wage, but bring in jobs so people can earn a family-sustaining wage.”

He also recommended Iowa increase its earned income tax credit from 15 percent to 25 percent and increase the child tax credit on state tax returns from $40 per child to $100 per child.

Iowa ranks seventh in education

Iowa ranked seventh in education, with three factors improving and one — the number of 3- and 4-year-olds not in school — remaining stagnant.

About 52 percent of Iowa children those ages are not receiving early education.

“That could become problematic when they enter school and aren’t ready to learn or keep up with other kids who were in pre-K,” Crawford said.

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Cost is often a barrier for families interested in pre-K, he added. Financial assistance is available to families below 145 percent of the poverty line, or about $37,300 for a family of four.

“We would like to see that raised to 200 percent poverty,” $51,500 for a family of four, he said.

“The benefits far outweigh the nonbenefits, and 145 is one of the lowest in the country. Putting us up to 200 percent would get us up to the middle of the pack.”

Other factors considered in education

• The number of fourth-graders who are not proficient in reading has declined from 66 percent in 2010 to 64 percent. The national rate is 65 percent.

• The number of eighth-graders not proficient in math has dropped from 66 percent in 2010 to 63 percent. The national rate is 67 percent.

• The number of high school students not graduating on time has declined from 12 percent in 2010 to 9 percent. The national rate is 15 percent.

Iowa ranks eighth in family, community environment

Iowa ranked eighth in the report for factors assessing kids’ families and community environment. The state improved in three areas and remained the same in one.

• The same amount of children are in single-parent families, 29 percent, as in 2010. The national rate is 34 percent.

• Fewer Iowa kids are in families where the head of the household does not have a high school diploma. That number declined to 8 percent from 9 percent in 2010.

• Fewer children, 3 percent, are living in high-poverty areas than were in 2010, when the figure was 4 percent.

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• The teen birthrate has dropped to 16 per 1,000 compared with 2010’s rate of 29 per 1,000. The national rate is 19 per 1,000.

• Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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