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By EILEEN O’GRADY The Concord Monitor

After a tough pandemic year that left many families struggling with disruptions to school and work, as well as mental health challenges, New Hampshire has ranked second best in the nation for overall child well-being, according to a new report.

Still, the data shows families with children continue to struggle with health, poverty, housing affordability and education.

The national rankings came from the 2021 Kids Count report, which analyzes data from surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, categorizes its findings across four domains — economic well-being, education, health and family/community. It shows youth in all states continue to struggle with education disruptions and mental health issues as a result of the pandemic.

“Left unaddressed, the negative impacts of these crises cannot be overstated,” said Rebecca Woitkowski, Kids Count Policy Coordinator at New Futures, which partners with the Annie E. Casey Foundation for the report. “When children experience trauma, they are put at risk for future health problems, including substance misuse, mental health concerns, and even early death.”

The Granite State ranked fifth-best in the nation for education, but the report shows some significant issues do remain. Among New Hampshire fourth-graders, 62 percent of students scored below proficient reading levels for their age group, an assessment that is typically used as an indicator of overall educational development. And among the state’s eighth-graders, 62 percent scored below proficient levels in math.

The report shows education was severely disrupted by the COVID pandemic. In March, 39 percent of New Hampshire households had youth who either canceled their postsecondary plans during the pandemic or said they would take fewer classes than anticipated, according to the report.

Economic well-being for New Hampshire children and families has improved in the last decade according to the report, which looks at number of children in poverty, families that lack secure employment, with high housing cost burdens and unemployed teens who don’t attend school. New Hampshire has a child poverty rate of 7 percent, with nearly 18,000 children living below the federal poverty line, compared to a nationwide average of 17 percent.

Still, during the pandemic, 14 percent of households with children reported having slight or no confidence in their ability to pay their rent or mortgage on time.

New Hampshire ranked first in the nation for the report’s family and community category, because of a decrease in the number of children living in single-parent families (28 percent) and high-poverty areas (less than 1 percent).

Health concerns remain, although the Granite State ranked third best in the nation for children’s health. During the pandemic, mental health has been suffering among New Hampshire parents. In March, 19 percent of adults in households with children reported feeling down, depressed or hopeless in the previous week.

In 2019, 4 percent of Granite State children are still not covered by health insurance 3,000 more children lacked health insurance that they need in 2019 compared to 2018. The amount of youth ages 10 to 17 who are considered overweight or obese has increased to 27 percent.

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

This is the second year New Hampshire been ranked second-best overall for child well-being, behind only Massachusetts. New England states Vermont and Connecticut also ranked in the top 10. The lowest-ranking states for child well-being were Mississippi, New Mexico and Louisiana.

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