ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The Southwest continues to earn dismal marks for child well-being, with New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada ranking in the bottom five of an annual national report that grades states on education, health care and poverty.
New Mexico, which last year booted Mississippi from last place, moved back up to 49th in this year's Kids Count Data Book, thanks to a slight drop in child poverty, improvements in high school graduation rates and a drop in the teenage birth rate.
But officials warned much more needs to be done.
"It's a tiny step forward, but only if we can keep up the positive momentum of change," said Veronica García, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the program in New Mexico. "The fact that New Mexico has always been in the bottom-ten states — and this year in the bottom-five states — in terms of child well-being is what's concerning. In other words, we need to do better by our children — much, much better."
With rising child poverty, Mississippi fell back to the bottom in the annual report from Annie E. Casey Foundation. Nevada came in at 48th, mostly because of the number of children living in poverty, while Louisiana ranked 47th despite a number of across-the board improvements, the report said.
Arizona rounded out the bottom five as its rate of children living in poverty has increased in 10 of its 15 counties while support for programs to help them has dropped significantly, the report said.
This year marks the 25th year the foundation has put out the comprehensive scorecard of child well-being across the country.
The good news, the group said, is there has been steady improvement in the numbers of children attending preschool and a decline in the number of schoolchildren not proficient in reading and math over the years. Additionally, the teen birth rate is at a historic low, and the death rates for children and teens have fallen as a result of medical advances and the increased use of seat belts, car seats and bike helmets.
Worrisome trends, however, include a rise in child poverty, the growing percentage of children in single-parent households and the growing number of children growing up in poor communities, the foundation said.
"We should all be encouraged by the improvements in many well-being indicators in the health, education and safety areas," said Patrick McCarthy, the foundation's president and CEO said in a news release.
"But we must do much more. All of us, in every sector — business, government, nonprofits, faith-based groups, families — need to continue to work together to ensure that all children have the chance to succeed."