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Florida ranks 35th in the nation for child well-being, says Kids Count report

child receiving care

The state has ranked 35th in the nation for three years in a row. Policy experts say Florida needs to do more to assist families and support child mental health.

For the third year in a row, Florida ranks 35th in the nation for children's well-being, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report examines challenges that kids and families face across the nation and compared how states did between 2016 and 2020, with the years following the 2008 recession. It found that although Florida has made improvements in recent years when it comes to families living in poverty, it hasn’t kept pace with other parts of the country.

There are still one in five children living below the federal poverty level, according to Norín Dollard, senior policy analyst and Kids Count director for the Florida Policy Institute. One in three kids are living in households where they spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

“We need to continue to invest in our kids and in our families,” said Dollard.

For the first time, the report focused on mental health.

The number of kids in Florida with anxiety or depression rose by 21.8% from 2016 to 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the report.

That data didn't directly affect Florida's ranking, which factors in economic well-being, health, education and family and community support. But Dollard said all of these things are connected.

“You have to look at kids holistically, and all of these indicators are interrelated,” she said. “So for example kids who experience housing instability, they and their parents have greater mental health issues.”

The policy institute recommends expanding access to health insurance, affordable housing and financial assistance for families in the state. It also calls for increased mental health support services, particularly for children of color and LGBTQ youth, who are more likely to experience challenges.

“By investing in mental health services and strengthening the safety net, state lawmakers can help ensure that children in Florida will be able to thrive,” added Dollard.

You can read the Kids Count report to learn more about how Florida is faring in each category, and you can learn more about the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s recommendations for state lawmakers.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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