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Minnesota Kids Count forum highlights report on well-being of children

A Minnesota non-profit organization aiming to give every child the best start in life is sharing data on the well-being of children in the state.

On Wednesday, Children's Defense Fund Minnesota held a community forum at Bemidji State University's American Indian Resource Center highlighting its latest report on the well-being of Minnesota children and its legislative efforts.

Minnesota is the top state in the nation in terms of the well-being of children, according to Kids Count, a national and state-by-state effort to track the status of children in the United States.

But based on the data in the latest Minnesota Kids Count report, which is a project of CDF Minnesota, the state still has a ways to go, said CDF Minnesota Director Jim Koppel.

"If you're going to be No. 1, you better be good," he said.

The report, "Seven Basic Needs: Minnesota Kids Count Data Book 2007," focuses on basic needs all children share, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, family status or in which community they live, according to CDF Minnesota. These needs are family and caregivers, economic security, food and nutrition, healthy development, early care and education, school-age care and education, and safe homes and communities.

"We think these seven needs are essential for families to thrive and succeed," Koppel said.

He said the report, which includes data from a variety of sources, is designed to trigger discussion on why the statistics are as they are and what can be done to improve the well-being of children.

"The book ... is really all different ways you can look at data on the well-being of children," Koppel said.

He said poverty is the anchor that weighs down efforts to improve children's lives. And, he said, statewide trends from 2000-05 show that poverty rose in the state. Currently, 152,000, or 12 percent, of Minnesota children are living in poverty, according to CDF Minnesota.

"We have more children living in poverty," Koppel said. "We have more children living in extreme poverty."

According to statewide trends from 2000-05, 23 percent more Minnesota children live in poverty and 63 percent more live in extreme poverty.

Other concerns, as shown by statewide trends, are more children are receiving food stamps, transferring schools during the year and receiving free- and reduced-priced school lunches, Koppel said.

Statewide trends also show improvement, he said. Fewer children are born to teen-age mothers, born at low birth weights, arrested for violent crimes, dropping out of school, abused or neglected and in out-of-home placements.

Success of families

The CDF Minnesota report highlights five pieces of data that relate to family success.

First, 85,000 children in the state currently do not have health insurance. And, Koppel said, northwestern and northeastern Minnesota have some of the highest rates of uninsured children in the state.

Second, almost 30 percent of Minnesota children did not have a preventative medical care visit in the past year.

"So what this gets at is a bigger problem," Koppel said.

He said children without preventative medical care tend to receive more reactive care, which is more expensive and has poorer outcomes, when health problems arise.

Third, two out of three Minnesota children under age 6 have their single parent or both parents in the workforce, which leads to child care needs. Koppel said the average cost of child care in the state is higher than the average cost of college tuition.

Fourth, the average annual cost for full-time care for a preschooler is $8,000 for a center or $6,000 for family-based care. Koppel noted that these costs total about 14 percent or 9 percent, respectively, of the state median family income of $64,000.

Finally, more than one in 10 Minnesota households claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is available for families earning less than $37,000. Koppel said EITC brings more than $400 million in federal money to the state.

"It's a great way to stabilize families," he said, adding that it's also a great way to bring money into communities.