OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- With 21% of Oklahoma's children living in poverty and an increase in the death rate for both teens and children in recent years, Oklahoma slid two spots to 42nd among the 50 states in a new state-by-state study on the well-being of children.
Oklahoma ranked No. 40 in last year's study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private nonprofit organization that released its "Kids Count" rankings on Wednesday based on 2004 and 2005 figures in 10 measures of a child's well-being.
The read more about Oklahoma's "Kids Count" numbers, click here
It was the fourth straight year Oklahoma has fallen in the rankings, Roberts said.
"I'm very disturbed that our numbers keep going the wrong way, but on the other hand I'm very hopeful," said Anne Roberts, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. "It's obvious that those specific areas where we've focused our attention and resources, we have made positive results."
Of the 10 trends analyzed in the report, Oklahoma saw improvement in four: infant mortality rate, teen birth rate, percentage of teens who are high school dropouts and percentage of teens not attending school and not working.
But Oklahoma trended poorly in the other six areas: percentage of low birth weight babies, child and teen death rates, percentage of children in poverty, percentage of children in single-parent families and percentage of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.
And while Oklahoma saw a 29% decrease in the number of teens who are high school dropouts, the state didn't keep pace with the national rate and ranks among the worst in the country at No. 47.
"Some of the other states are simply doing better, quicker, and we're lagging behind in that area," Roberts said. "Obviously, we've figured out what to do right and we're doing it, but we just need to do it faster to close that gap."
Roberts said she was encouraged by some of the findings in the report, particularly a decline in the teen birth rate. Oklahoma dropped from 60 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 to 56 births from 2000 to 2004, although the state still trails the national average and ranks 44th among the states.
"We've gotten better in teen parenting, and I think it's because as a community and a Legislature, we've paid attention to that item and really invested in that area," Roberts said.
Oklahoma's highest national ranking was No. 22 in percent of low-birth weight babies at 8% compared to a national average of 8.1%.
Roberts also remained optimistic that a recent upturn in Oklahoma's economy and a law passed by the Legislature last year that will provide access to health care for more of the state's children should result in improvements for the state over the next several years.
"This past legislative session was really good to children with regard to this health insurance piece that will provide vouchers to parents to provide health insurance to their kids," Roberts said. "To me, that's the most progressive advancements we've had in a number of years."
Rep. Kris Steele, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, said he also was concerned that Oklahoma slipped in the rankings, but that he shares Roberts' optimism that Oklahoma will improve in upcoming years.
"I'm optimistic because there seems to be a tremendously high awareness in the Legislature that we need to do more to promote and protect our children," said Steele, R-Shawnee. "Obviously we've got a lot more work to do in the area of helping our children, but I do think we're on the right track in light of what we've been able to accomplish in the Legislature over the next couple of years."