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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Hawai'i slips to No. 16 in nation in children's care

 •  Advertiser special: Hawai'i's Census 2000

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

Hawai'i, once ranked as one of the best states for the overall well-being of children, has slipped to No. 16, according to a national report to be released today.

The health and economic status of Hawai'i's children is revealed in the "2001 Kids Count Data Book" released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report is based on 1998 data.

Three years ago, the report ranked Hawai'i as No. 8 in the nation for the well-being of children. That dropped over the last two years to No. 13 and fell further this year.

"That's not the direction that we want this trend going," said Marcia Hartsock, project director of Hawai'i's Kids Count at the University of Hawai'i Center on the Family.

The Kids Count report rates how well states are serving children based on 10 indicators ranging from infant mortality to teen pregnancy and single-parent families.

While Hawai'i did improve in seven of the report's 10 measurements, its overall performance continues to fall when compared with other states.

"I think it mostly says that other places are making improvements that we're not making," Hartsock said.

Experts have attributed the decline to Hawai'i's ailing economy. But with signs of a tentative recovery, Hartsock said the outlook for children is improving.

"We're beginning now to again spend in areas of prevention and social programs that have really been cut over the last few years," she said.

In one positive sign, Hawai'i saw a drop in the number of children living in poverty — from 18 percent in last year's report to 16 percent.

Hawai'i also continued to rank No. 1, along with Wisconsin and North Dakota, for the lowest percentage of high school drop-outs.

The dropout rate for island youth ages 16 through 19 was 5 percent. Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen attributes Hawai'i's good showing to the requirement that children attend school until they are 18.

"I think, overall, there is a higher value on education," he said. "We basically accept that a high school education is needed."

But the report also shows some troubling trends.

The teen death rate rose, dropping Hawai'i's national ranking from No. 2 to No. 4. In 1998, there were 38 teen deaths by accident, homicide or suicide per 100,000 teens ages 15-19, up from 27 in 1997.

Hawai'i's ranking for the child death rate also slipped from No. 3 to No. 5.

Hawai'i fared worst in the percent of "idle teens" — those who are not going to school or working. At 10 percent, Hawai'i was 37th in the nation.

"Some part of it is probably accounted for by the fact that a lot of the cultures here expect siblings to help care for the family," Hartsock said. "The older child is expected to take care of the younger ones."

It may also be a reflection of a more laid-back lifestyle.

"Part of it also may be that the surfing culture is alive and well," she said.