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By Kevin Landrigan New Hampshire Union Leader

CONCORD — New Hampshire trails only Massachusetts in the nation for the well-being of its children, but more Granite State children were uninsured, and the state’s high cost of living added stress for families, according to the 2021 Kids Count Data Book.

The state’s ranking in health and family/community context improved from a year earlier in this annual survey done by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report covers 16 indicators across four broad themes that also include economic well-being and education.

All states are struggling with the physical and mental health fallout for children from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Rebecca Woitkowski, Kids Count policy coordinator at New Futures, a New Hampshire group created to combat substance abuse.

“Left unaddressed, the negative impacts of these crises cannot be overstated,” Woitkowski said in a statement.

“When children experience trauma, they are put at risk for future health problems, including substance misuse, mental health concerns, and even early death. There is much work needed to support a statewide system of care for all children and access to family support services, like home visiting and other services offered at family resource centers, to promote equity and keep the Granite State’s youngest residents healthy and thriving.”

Gov. Chris Sununu said the work continues to improve the state’s record regarding policies to protect and benefit children.

“New Hampshire is once again a national leader when it comes to the health and well-being of our children — and that’s no accident,” Sununu said in a statement.

“Over the last 4 years, we have fought for more educational choice, implemented full-day kindergarten, focused resources on new child welfare services, hired additional staff and ensured that our state’s children have access to quality health care. While today’s announcement is extremely encouraging, there is still more work to be done to ensure that every child, regardless of zip-code, has the opportunity to succeed in the Granite State.”

This is the second straight year New Hampshire finished second behind Massachusetts; the Granite State last ranked first in 2018.

Nearly all of New England finished in the top 11, with Rhode Island having the lowest ranking in the region at 23rd nationally.

Vermont, Connecticut and Maine placed fourth, eighth and 11th in the U.S., respectively, according to the report.

The bottom five states in the nation in order from the lowest were Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas.

Lowest child poverty rate

The report said New Hampshire, at just 7%, has the nation’s lowest rate of children living below the federal poverty line, defined as income below $25,296 for a family of two adults and two children.

This was an improvement from a year ago when the state’s child poverty rate was 11%.

But the report noted New Hampshire’s higher cost of living hits poorer families hard. For example, 16 states had a fewer number of children living in homes than the 24% percent of New Hampshire households, which spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

The state finished fifth in education, but 62% of fourth-graders scored below proficient reading levels and that 46% of 3- and 4-year-olds did not attend pre-school in 2017-19, the report said.

About 15% of New Hampshire households with children said they had no confidence in being able to pay their rent or mortgage and 21% of adults living with children reported feeling “down, depressed or hopeless” in the previous week.

“We know that across our state, not all children have access to services which will reduce the negative impacts of this troubling (pandemic)” Woitkowski added. “Now more than ever, equitable health and economic supports are needed to help Granite State families thrive.”

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