Native kids; well-being lags behind other races

WASHINGTON - For several years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has offered national level charts in its Kids Count data reports indicating that American Indian children fare poorly on several indicators of well-being, including poverty. New state-level data, sorted by race, gathered by the foundation confirms past findings.

In the latest research, child poverty data is available for Native kids in about two-thirds of states. In all states where data is available for Indian and non-Hispanic white children, the poverty rate was found to higher for Indian cases - in some cases, much more so.

;'American Indian children are the only group that collectively lost ground since 2000 out of non-Hispanic whites, African-Americans, Asians and Latinos,'' said William O'Hare, a senior fellow with the Kids Count program at the Annie E. Casey Foundation since 1993. ''Every other group, other than American Indians, has improved a little bit over that period.''

Nationally, Indian kids also continue to fare poorly. The latest research indicates that while the child death rate for children aged 1 - 14 has gone down by 9 percent since 2000, it has gone up by 15 percent for American Indian children.

Meanwhile, the teenage death rate nationally went down by 3 percent over the same period; but for American Indian and Alaska Native children, it went up by 7 percent.

And the number of idle ''at-risk'' teens - those not working and not in school - went down by 11 percent nationwide, but increased by 6 percent for Natives.

O'Hare speculated some reasons for the dismal Native youth numbers, including the fact that many preventable deaths correlate with access to good medical care, which is a problem in many Native communities. He also said that for rural teenagers, especially, auto accidents involving old cars, bad roads and drinking may also be factors.

In many cases, state-specific data is not available for Natives youth due to small sample sizes and a lack of vital events samples. If the number of events or sample size was too small, the foundation could not release data because it is not reliable enough. The foundation derived its numbers from data collected by the federal government, including the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.

O'Hare said that in the latter half of the 1990s, there was a lot of improvement on overall child well-being in the U.S. Almost every childhood well-being measure improved for every major racial and ethnic group. However, post-2000 data has been different. There has been some improvement for most racial groups, but much less so than prior to the 2000s.

''We sort of lost momentum there,'' O'Hare said. ''It's something that a lot of people in the child welfare field are trying to reverse.''

Why the slowdown? Child welfare experts have a couple of theories. Some say that there has been a ''jobless recovery'' since the 2001 - 02 economic struggles with economic indicators suggesting the U.S. never really recovered from the recession.

One indicator along these lines that the foundation has paid close attention to is the child poverty rate, which rose after 2001 - 02 and has pretty much stayed in a risen state since.

Other child welfare experts note that there were a number of programs implemented in 1990s that helped working families, like the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit of 1993 and the SCHIP program that expanded health program for kids.

All of the programs disproportionately helped low-income families. They are still in place, but there have been few new ones added since 2000.

O'Hare said that from the foundation's perspective, it's not only important that childhood well-being improves on average, but that it improves for all groups, especially those that have been denied opportunities.

O'Hare also hopes that more people will use the data to conduct analyses and offer recommendations for improvement, especially for Native kids.

More data, by state, is available online at www.kidscount.org/datacenter.