Each year, The Annie E. Casey Foundation releases the KIDS COUNT® Data Book, an in-depth report analyzing how children in America are faring. The Data Book presents national and state data within 16 indicators in four domains—economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors—and ranks the states according to how children are faring overall. The data in this year’s report are a mix of pre-pandemic and more recent figures and are the latest available.
The report sheds light on health, economic and other challenges affecting American children, as well as how those challenges are more likely to affect children of color.
This year, the report pays special attention to youth mental health, finding that youth in America are in the midst of a mental health crisis, struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels. The data concurs with a recent assessment by the U.S. surgeon general stating that conditions amount to a youth “mental health pandemic.”
As members of the CASA community, it is crucial we arm ourselves with this information to inform the way we serve children and families.
How Did Texas Fare in the Rankings?
Texas ranked 45th in the nation for overall child well-being, one spot up from 2021’s ranking of 46th. The state continues to rank in the bottom half in all four child well-being categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Continue reading for highlights.
Economic Well-being (36th)
Texas moved up two spots in this category from last year’s, from 38th to 36th. Even so, 20% of Texas children live in poverty compared to 17% nationally. About 26% of Black children and 27% of Hispanic or Latino children lived below the federal poverty level in 2020, compared to 9% of white children. In 2020, over 1.9 million Texas children lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment. The pandemic and housing expenses have exacerbated the challenges Texas families were already facing.
Texas maintained the same ranking as last year in 33rd place. 57% of all three- and four-year-olds did not attend school in 2020. Nationally, pre-K enrollment dropped during the 2020-2021 school year for the first time in 20 years due to the pandemic. As of last year, 70% of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading and 70% of eight-graders are not proficient in math.
As in previous years, Texas performed the worst in health insurance coverage for children compared to other states, with 11% of Texas children uninsured—that’s more than twice the national rate. Over half a million Texas children ages 3-17 had anxiety or depression in 2020, a 23% increase from 2016. Between 2016 and 2020, Black and Latino children experienced the largest increases in anxiety and depression. Added to that, 12% of Black students and 10% of Latino students in Texas reported attempting suicide.
Family and Community (47th)
More than 900,000 Texas children live in high poverty areas. Children living in these areas are more likely to lack resources such as well-funded schools and may experience safety concerns. In 2021, 13% of Texas children did not attend school because they felt unsafe. 17% of Latino children reported skipping school due to safety concerns, compared to 8% of white children. 17% of LGBTQ students also reported skipping school due to safety concerns, compared to 11% of straight students.
How CASA Can Help
The statistics are dire, but are also a clear indicator of what areas we, as advocates for our state’s most vulnerable children and youth, need to keep a close eye on. We know that every child in foster care has experienced trauma, and if the KIDS COUNT data is any indicator, the added stress and isolation that has come with the pandemic over the last couple years means they need support with their mental health more than ever. As individuals and as a larger community, we need to focus in on making children’s mental health a true priority.
Check out our overview of advocating for children and youth’s mental health—Mental Health Matters! How to Get Services for Children & Youth in Foster Care. Though this piece was written in the height of social distancing, the topics and recommendations are still highly relevant today.
After that, dive deeper with our Health Advocacy Guide. This in-depth, 42-page guide covers everything you need to know in order to make sure the young people you advocate for are getting what they need and deserve, from check-ups to dental care to counseling.
Child by child, and family by family, we can help shape a Texas where all children have the same chance to live healthy, fulfilling lives.