(June 2008) National trends in child well-being have improved slightly since 2000, according to the 2008 KIDS COUNT Data Book. The 2008 Data Book also presents a clear path to reducing the number of children and youth in America’s justice system. The annual Data Book, published by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation with technical assistance from the Population Reference Bureau, ranks U.S. states according to 10 indicators of child well-being.

The 2008 edition, the 19th KIDS COUNT Data Book, shows that children’s lives have improved in five areas, signified by declines in the child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate, high school dropout rate, and the percentage of teens who are not in school and not working.

But it also reveals setbacks in four other areas, and a lack of improvement in another:

  • The rate of low birth-weight babies increased and is at its highest level in 40 years. Low birth weight is related to a number of long-term health problems for children and adults.
  • The infant mortality rate—also associated with low birth weight—has not improved since 2000, leaving the United States with one of the highest infant mortality rates of any developed country.
  • The percentage of children living in families where no parent has full-time year-round employment increased.
  • Poverty among children increased. More children are living in relative poverty in the United States than in any other economically advanced nation.
  • A greater share of children lived in single-parent families in 2006 than in 2000.

These national trends lag behind the well-being improvements that were seen at the end of the 1990s, with little change since 2000.

“KIDS COUNT contains some good and bad news,” says Laura Beavers, coordinator of the national KIDS COUNT project at the Casey Foundation. “We continue to see that well-being indicators have largely gotten better for teens, and they’ve gotten worse for babies. The percent of babies born at low birth weight continues to increase, with the 2005 rate the highest reported since 1968.” Looking across all well-being indicators, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Massachusetts rank highest, and New Mexico, Louisiana, and Mississippi rank the lowest.

This edition of the Data Book focused on the experience of U.S. children with the juvenile justice systems in each state, highlighting recent research and reforms that provide the basis for a fundamental, urgently needed transformation. In 2006, an estimated 92,854 youth were in the custody of juvenile justice facilities, with racial and ethnic minorities vastly overrepresented. Two out of three (66 percent) of all youth in custody were there due to a nonviolent offense.

“The state and federal government must take a much closer look at the problems that are entrenched in the juvenile justice system,” according to Douglas W. Nelson, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “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.” In his introductory essay, Nelson makes a case for keeping youth out of the adult justice system, reducing incarceration, ensuring safe institutions, and eliminating racially disparate treatment.

The KIDS COUNT Data Book with state-by-state rankings, supplemental data, and the essay, “A Road Map for Juvenile Justice Reform,” can be viewed online at www.kidscount.org/datacenter/databook.jsp.