Well child

An annual child well-being report says 25% of Minnesota kids ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, a rate well below the national average of 31%. (Adobe Stock)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota gets another high ranking in a national report that measures the well-being of children, although this year’s data was compiled before the pandemic, and concerns remain about longstanding gaps affecting children of color.

The aecf.org.annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Minnesota third among states for family economic stability, children’s health and other factors. Last year, Minnesota ranked fourth.

Bharti Wahi, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, said there are a variety of reasons the state has been able to serve most children well.

“I think the improvement in the overall ranking speaks to, certainly, the strength of the economy prior to COVID-19,” she said. “I also think it speaks to a number of supports that we’ve put in place, particularly in the area of health care.”

In 2018, the report said, only 3% of Minnesota children weren’t covered by health insurance, below the national average. However, Wahi said it’s reasonable to think that any positive trends will be reversed by the pandemic, especially for families of color deeply affected by the crisis. She said that coincides with historical racial gaps in Minnesota, in such areas as affordable housing and education.

Wahi said those racial gaps are receiving a lot more attention following the George Floyd protests. She said Minnesota needs to be bold in closing these gaps for children.

“There’s a lot of gazing at the problem,” she said, “but not a lot of, I think, sincere action and a willingness to try something different.”

Minnesota lawmakers recently adjourned a special session without agreement on key issues, but Wahi said she thinks it will take more than state leaders to close these gaps. She said Minnesotans and other institutions need to do their parts.

Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota is coming out with a more localized well-being report this fall, and Wahi said she hopes it will include some data that reflect the current crisis.

The group was happy to see the Legislature recently approve a bill that increased reimbursement rates for child-care providers serving low-income families. The move only allows the use of money from Congress to help the state meet standards set by the federal government. But Wahi said they had been strongly advocating for that bill for several years, and that the small victory helps. That state program, known as CCAP, was questioned by Republican lawmakers over fraud concerns that were addressed by the Legislature last year.

The report is online at aecf.org.

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