The well-being of Florida’s children has slipped in the latest national ranking, with a rise in the number of low birth-weight babies, more child and teen deaths and more teens abusing alcohol or drugs.
And while the number of Florida children covered by health insurance had increased from 2010 to 2016, that trend started to reverse in 2017, when 68,000 more children were uninsured compared to a year earlier.
In all, some 325,000 Florida children lacked health insurance in 2017, a number researchers called “most troubling.”
The findings come from the Kids Count Data Book, released Monday by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation, which focuses on improving the future of the nation’s youth.
As of 2017, Florida was home to 4.2 million children — 1.2 million more than it had in 1990, the report found. And population projections show the number will increase by an additional 1.1 million by 2045.
“This continuous growth in the youth population will demand greater investments in state resources for children to have what they need to lead healthy, successful lives,” said researchers at Florida Kids Count, based at the University of South Florida, part of the national network of agencies that contributed to the report. “Florida’s overall rank of 37th, compared to last year’s ranking of 34th, shows the state is not moving in the right direction."
Though the differences were often small — a .1-percent increase in low birth-weight babies, for instance, and a 1-percent increase in the number of teens abusing alcohol or drugs — it was the larger picture that researchers found disheartening. In 2017, more than 800,000 Florida children still lived in poverty — about one in five — and “serious racial and ethnic disparities persist,” the report said.
But there were some improvements. More children had parents with secure employment, more adolescents were either in school or working in 2017 than in 2010, and high school students graduating on time showed a slight improvement.
The number of children living in single-parent families held steady at 39 percent.
“Of course we are happy to see improvements in the economic indicators, though other states are improving more rapidly,” said Norín Dollard, director of Florida Kids Count. “But ... as we continue to see growing numbers of children in our state, more must be done to ensure they have what they need to thrive.”
In particular, Dollard and the Annie E. Casey Foundation suggest lawmakers broaden health insurance coverage for kids, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and promote additional funding for education.
Also, “we must work to ensure that every person in Florida is counted in the 2020 Census, especially those deemed hard to count, such as very young children,” Dollard said.
If Florida children are under-counted, she warned, the state could ultimately lose millions of dollars from 55 major federal programs, including Head Start, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and those that address nutrition, education, child care, transportation and adoption assistance.