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WI child well-being summary: Glaring mental-health disparities

Close up view of african american girl with hand near eye crying during consultation with blurred psychologist on background
Close up view of african american girl with hand near eye crying during consultation with blurred psychologist on background

An annual summary ranks Wisconsin 10th in the nation for child well-being, and like many other parts of the country, mental health is a growing concern.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is out with its latest Kids Count Data Book. Wisconsin is in the top 10 for areas such as education and economic stability.

But analysts pointed out there are glaring disparities, including mental health. For example, 26% of Black children were reported to have anxiety or depression, compared with 15% of white children.

Michele Mackey, CEO of the statewide group Kids Forward, said it is clear all the stress from the past two years is greatly affecting marginalized families.

"You know, we're seeing across the board the impact that the past couple of years with the pandemic and the economic crises hitting families," Mackey outlined. "As well as the racial reckoning and what that's done in communities of color, really taking a toll on children."

She argued policymakers can help by making stronger investments in social determinants of health. One suggestion is an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit. The report's authors said it has shown to be effective in reducing childhood poverty, along with behavioral health issues. However, it is unclear if such a plan could overcome political gridlock in Madison.

The report also suggested more dedicated funding in propping up mental-health treatment in schools, because it is where most kids access such care.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said it is important to not lose any momentum in helping kids thrive.

"It's incredibly important that decision makers seize the opportunity and the lessons learned during the COVID-19 period, when more resources were provided to families," Boissiere urged. "So that we can make sure that every child has their basic needs met, that fewer children live in poverty, and that the overall well-being of children in this country increases."

Health is a category where Wisconsin ranked lower, coming in at number 15 overall. It saw a slight increase in the number of children and teens who are overweight or obese. There was also an uptick in babies with a low birth weight.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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