Child welfare ratings lagging

By Felicia Fonseca: The Associated Press

o Study shows N.M. ranks 48th out of 50 when it comes to well-being of children.

By Felicia Fonseca
The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico’s child death rate has increased 45 percent over a three-year period, but New Mexico Voices for Children says that’s not as bad as it looks.

New Mexico ranks 45th among the 50 states for its child death rate, according to the latest Kids Count Report. Between 2000 and 2003, the rate in New Mexico increased from 20 deaths per 100,000 children ages 1-14 to 29 deaths.

New Mexico continues to rank near the bottom in the health and well-being of children in the state, according to the 2006 report compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore. New Mexico dropped two spots this year from 46th to 48th; only Louisiana and Mississippi had lower overall rankings.

Sara Beth Koplik, Kids Count program director for New Mexico Voices for Children, said natural deaths such as cancer, congenital deformations and childhood diseases make up the majority of the increase.

The number of natural deaths per 100,000 children ages 1-14 increased by 20 between 2000 and 2003, and Koplik said better health care could help.

“If health care is easily accessible, that will impact natural death rates,” she said. “That makes the quality of life better for all children because small problems don’t become big.”

Accidental deaths also have been increasing, “but not to the extent we would think,” she said.

In 2003, there were 50 natural deaths, 41 accidental deaths, ten suicides, four homicides and three unknown child deaths for a total of 108, she said. There were 37 accidental deaths in 2000.

“It’s been increasing every year over the past three years, but it’s 108 kids in a state of 1.9 million,” she said.

Koplik said the most alarming ranking on the report is the number of children living in poverty. New Mexico ranked 48th in that category.

“Most of our families live with this struggle of what to pay for, what to skimp on,” she said. “When little kids don’t get what they need, it impacts them for life.”

Fifty-six percent of children lived in low-income families with a household income below 200 percent of the poverty level. Ten percent of children live in extreme poverty, characterized as households in which the income level is below 50 percent of the poverty level. The national averages are 40 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Koplik said the state could address poverty with free and accessible health care for all children, a higher minimum wage, affordable early childhood education and an earned state income tax credit.

Poverty levels also highlight where economic development is needed, she said.

“It doesn’t help us if we have economic development in wealthy areas,” she said. “We need economic development strategies targeted toward poor and rural communities, and that’s where we can make a difference.”

Information in the report is mostly based on data from 2003 and 2004, the latest years for which data was available. New Mexico’s lowest ranking of 48 came in four of the 10 categories.

The state received its best nationwide ranking, No. 15, for infant morality rates. The rate decreased 12 percent between 2000 and 2003.

In 2003, 5.8 infants died per 1,000 births, down from 6.6 in 2000.

“We’re getting better, so that’s something to be proud of,” Koplik said.

The decline is because of the Hispanic majority in the state, since Hispanics tend to have a lower child morality rate than do Anglos, Koplik said.