Florida has made significant improvements in providing for its children, a recent study shows.
But the annual Kids Count study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation says Florida is still well below average compared to other states.
The number of uninsured children in Florida dropped to a record low of 7 percent, according to the study, which used data from 2015. The state also saw lower teen pregnancy rats and more teens in school or working full-time.
But the study ranked Florida 44th in health and 45th in economic well-being. It ranks the state 31st in education and 35th in the family and community category.
Norin Dollard is a University of South Florida researcher who compiled Florida's data for the study.
“Even though we have made these strides, there’s a lot of work to do,” Dollard said.
Access to health insurance is a good starting point, she said. Data shows that kids with health insurance have better outcomes over their lifetimes, including higher graduation rates and lower smoking rates.
“If they are not healthy, they are not able to do well in school and to be their maximally productive selves academically,” she said. “Some parents miss work and put their ability to support their kids at risk because they have to care for their sick children.”
Poverty is also a common driver in all the indicators.
“We have not changed the percentage of children who live in poverty over this five year period and still nearly one in four children in Florida lives below the poverty line,” Dollard said.
To improve, she says, Florida needs to provide better access to health care and early learning opportunities for kids.
“We know that kids who live in poverty don’t have the same educational opportunities and they don’t develop at the same rate as their more affluent piers,” Dollard said.
And kids don’t come without families, she says, so providing education and job skills for parents is another recommendation.
“Making sure their parents have the education and jobs skills to get the good jobs will ensure health insurance and give those parents the ability to give their kids what we all want to give our kids,” Dollard said.