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Despite high ranking, child wellbeing concerns persist in WI

Child wellbeing in Wisconsin
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Child wellbeing in Wisconsin

An annual report measuring child well-being in the U.S. said several benchmarks have worsened overall.

States like Wisconsin fared better in the Kids Count Data Book rankings, but a regional policy expert said there is still work to do.

The research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation now includes firm data from post-pandemic years, giving policy groups and nonprofits a better sense of how childhood development was affected by the crisis.

Emily Miota, communications director for the statewide policy group Kids Forward, said Wisconsin ranks 10th in the nation for overall well-being, but observed it is clear many families are still struggling and not lending added support will only worsen outcomes.

"To help children grow and to prepare adults, parents need jobs with family-sustaining pay, affordable housing, and of course, the ability to invest in their children's future," Miota outlined. "But when parents are unemployed or are earning low wages, their access to resources to support their kids' development is more limited."

The report showed 13% of Wisconsin children are living in poverty, and Miota noted the crisis has exacerbated disparities in economic well-being. Nationally, there were worsening trends in reading and math scores, and more kids whose parents lack secure employment. As for health, there has been a significant increase in the number of babies born at low birth weights.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said there are significant challenges with the lack of access to affordable child care.

"Infant care is the most expensive, and it is actually higher than in-state college tuition in 34 states," Boissiere pointed out. "The affordability for families is a huge challenge. And at the same time, early child care workers are among the lowest paid in the country."

In 2021, Wisconsin's average cost of center-based child care for a toddler was more than $12,000, which is 11% of the median income for a couple, and 36% of a single mom's income in the state. Advocates say policymakers should use state funds to continue the Child Care Counts program -- a pandemic relief initiative -- to help bring permanent stability.

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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