N.H. kids fare well, but anxiety still remains high

Monitor staff
Published: 8/10/2022 5:15:58 PM
Modified: 8/10/2022 5:12:43 PM

New Hampshire ranks among the best states in the country for child well-being, but children in the Granite State – as well as nationwide — are struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels, according to a new national report.

The 2022 Kids Count Data Book, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, tracks state trends in child well-being across the United States. The organization uses government data and national survey responses to measure how children are faring in the areas of economic well-being, health, education, family and community.

The report ranks New Hampshire as second-best in the nation for overall child well-being, which compiles data relating to economic well-being, education, health and family and community. Massachusetts was ranked number one.

Jake Berry, vice president of policy at the health policy and advocacy organization New Futures, said Wednesday that while he appreciates New Hampshire’s high rankings for the ways children are supported, the report also exposes numerous challenges facing New Hampshire families and gaps in the state’s systems.

“As a state, we want to make sure that we take a comprehensive and equitable approach to supporting all our kids and families, and make sure they are receiving the benefits and services highlighted in these reports,” Berry said. “There are some communities and populations who are not experiencing the high levels of support that are highlighted in this report.”

Berry believes state investments in the areas of childcare and children’s behavioral and mental health would help improve outcomes for children even more.

The state’s ranking was applauded by Governor Chris Sununu.

“Here in New Hampshire, our investments in mental health and public education have delivered results for children and families across the 603 – earning the Granite State the #2 spot for family and community and #2 for overall child well-being,” Sununu said in a statement Wednesday. “With top rankings in economic well-being, best education, and best health too, these rankings all make one thing clear: New Hampshire is the best state in the country for families.”

However, most of the data in the 2022 report is from 2016 to 2020 and doesn’t reflect the impact the COVID-19 pandemic may have had on children and families in the last two years. This is due to a lack of more recent information from some of the foundation’s usual sources while the report was being compiled, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted reliable data collection. The data is compiled from sources like the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Education.

This year’s report includes a section on youth mental health, which uses National Survey of Children’s Health data from 2020 to show that children dealt with more depression and anxiety during the first year of the pandemic than in previous years. In New Hampshire, the percentage of children with anxiety or depression increased 27.8% in four years, from 14.4% of children in 2016 to 18.4% of children in 2020.

“We know that issue, in particular, has been compounded since the pandemic,” said Emma Sevigny, children’s behavioral health policy coordinator at New Futures. “Moving forward, I think it’s important to keep track of the other data we have, including the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.”

The report ranks New Hampshire second-best in the category of health, which assesses healthy births, availability of health insurance, child deaths and obesity rates. Massachusetts ranked number one, while Vermont ranked number three.

New Hampshire ranked second-best in the nation for “family and community,” a category that measures the number of single-parent families, the education level of the head of household, poverty and teen birth rates. Utah ranked the best in this category, while Vermont and Maine were numbers three and four.

New Hampshire ranked fourth in the nation for economic well-being, which measures poverty, parent employment and housing costs. Nebraska, North Dakota and Minnesota ranked ahead of New Hampshire for economic well-being. In New Hampshire, 9% of children (23,000) live in poverty, according to the report.

The Granite State ranked fourth in the nation for education, which measures school attendance, reading and math proficiency and graduation rates. New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut ranked ahead of New Hampshire for education. 

Sevigny says initiatives like the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and educational models that support social and emotional learning and connect students to resources are important ways to support child well-being in the state now and in the future.

“Community-based resources are most effective in helping stabilize children and having the most benefit for them,” Sevigny said.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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