Study Finds Child Welfare Improving; Notes Alarm Over 'Disconnected' Youth

The 2004 Kids Count Data Book came out last week. (
The overall well-being of American children has improved over the last five years, according to an annual report.

While noting improvements in eight of 10 key indicators of child well-being, the 2004 Kids Count Data Book sounded alarm over a growing number of "disconnected" young adults, persons ages 18-24 who are not presently enrolled in school, do not have a job and have no degree beyond a high school diploma or GED.


They are considered as having difficulty in navigating what most would consider a successful transition to adulthood, according to the 15th annual survey by the child-advocacy group Annie E. Casey Foundation.


"It is alarming that the number of disconnected youth is roughly 15 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds, Douglas Nelson, president of the Baltimore-based foundation, said in a news release.


Disconnected youth come disproportionately from low-income families and minority backgrounds, according to the study.


Nelson said the ranks of disconnected young adults grew by 700,000 between 2000 and 2002, the most recent statistical year included in the survey, representing a 19 percent increase in three years. About 3.8 million young Americans "face a greater likelihood of bad outcomes, now and in the future, which holds severe implications for our society," Nelson said.


Despite such gloom, the report showed large decreases between 1996 and 2001 in the percentages of children living in poverty, teen birth rates, violent teen deaths and the percentages of teenagers not in school or working and of children living in families without a working parent. The percent of teens who are high school dropouts also declined, along with infant mortality rates.


The percentage of children living in poverty dropped by nearly a quarter, from 21 percent to 16 percent, corresponding to a six-year period of economic growth and expansion of public programs, according to the survey. Even with the improvement, America's overall child-poverty rate is among the highest in the developed world and varies widely state by state, according to the study.


Births to girls ages 15-17 declined from 33 per 100,000 to 25 per 100,000, a 24 percent drop. The rate of teen deaths by accident, homicide and suicide dropped 17 percent. Death rates for children under 15 declined 15 percent. The percent of teens not attending school or working was down 11 percent. The percent of children living in homes where no parent has full-time, year-round employment also fell by 11 percent. High school dropouts declined 10 percent and infant mortality by 7 percent.


The percentages of low birth-weight babies and families headed by a single parent each grew by 4 percent, according to the survey.


Minnesota ranked the No. 1 state in overall child well-being, while Mississippi came in last.


An essay accompanying the survey, titled "Moving Youth from Risk to Opportunity," outlined four calls to action: "getting our goals right" so that American children can transition successfully to adulthood, addressing the reality that risk factors disproportionately affect kids of color, developing better data about youth in transition and committing political resources to helping kids mature.


The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization with a primary mission of fostering public policy and community service to meet the needs of vulnerable children.


Bob Allen is managing editor of

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