An annual report on child well-being ranks Utah among the best in the nation, but advocates warn it has also highlighted a growing mental health crisis.
The Kids Count 2022 data book compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Utah 4th out of 50 states, appearing in the Top Ten in all four major categories.
Martin Muñoz, director of Kids Count at Voices for Utah Children, said there has been a 26% overall increase in mental health issues from 2016 to 2020, and the numbers are rising dramatically in communities of color, and especially among LGBTQ children.
“Within our LGBTQ community, facing policies to put them in a place that can make them feel like they’re not part of society is very concerning,” Muñoz pointed out. “We really need to take a step back and see how children are affected.”
Muñoz noted that the survey ranked Utah 1st in strong family and community indicators, 6th in economic well-being, and 10th in health and education. He added that while the rankings are good, Utah lawmakers need to do more to help children, by dedicating some of the state’s budget surplus to more mental and behavioral health care.
Muñoz thinks one area where Utah could improve is to develop special programs to help students who have fallen behind during the pandemic. He argued that too few are graduating with their class.
“We did better overall, but also graduating from high school, graduating on time, we still struggle, especially those who face disability-related challenges,” Muñoz pointed out. “We have to make sure that all of our students graduate on time.”
Although rates have dropped, more than 90,000 children in Utah still live below the poverty line.
Leslie Boissière, vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said the federal government has offered supports to help families, such as additional food aid during the pandemic, but noted that the aid will likely expire. soon.
“It is extremely important that policymakers seize the opportunity and lessons learned during the COVID-19 period, when more resources were provided to families,” insisted Boissière. “So that we can ensure that the basic needs of every child are met – that fewer children live in poverty and that the overall well-being of children in this country increases.”
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