Arkansas ranks among the worst states for child well-being, especially for POC and LGBTQ+

Arkansas children are struggling to live happy, healthy lives, especially those in underrepresented communities, a new 50-state report shows. 

Pamela Acosta

Arkansas children are struggling to live happy, healthy lives, especially those in underrepresented communities, a new 50-state report shows. 

The 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book illustrates how children are faring on health, economy, education, and other challenges across the United States. Arkansas ranked in 43rd place, making it one of the most challenging places to be a child than almost anywhere else in the country. 

The report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation highlights the difficulties faced by American children, including why these challenges are more likely to affect Black, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Latino children.

“American policymakers must prioritize solutions that don’t leave anyone behind,” said Lisa Hamilton, president, and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Children deserve to thrive regardless of their background or in which state they live.”

The data in this year’s report are a mix of pre-pandemic and more recent figures and are the latest available.


Children in America Amidst a “Youth Mental Health Pandemic” 

Children and teens in America, including in Arkansas, are struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels. This year’s Data Book focuses on youth mental health, a critical issue given that U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy has declared a “youth mental health pandemic” in the United States.

The number of children ages 3-17 who experienced anxiety and/or depression increased by 26% nationwide, from 9.4% in 2016 (5.8 million kids) to 11.8% in 2020 (7.3 million). This means 1.5 million more children are struggling just to make it through the day. According to a 2021 CDC survey, four out of five high school students had felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities. 

Arkansas’s mental health statistics are especially troubling, with a 67.4% increase in children with anxiety or depression.


Suicide attempts are higher among LGBTQ+ youths

In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death among adolescents (ages 12-17) across the U.S. These numbers are higher among the Black, Native American, and LGBTQ+ communities. 

While nine percent of high schoolers have attempted suicide in the past 12 months, according to the most recent federal survey, that number goes up to 12% in Black students, 26% among American Indian or Native Alaskan, and 13% of two or more races. 

In the LGBTQ+ community, a starling 23% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students attempted suicide versus 6% of heterosexual high school students.


Preschool enrollment, low birth weight rates, teen obesity & other indicators  

The 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book measured 16 indicators of child well-being, including economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors. Eleven of Arkansas’ indicators are worse than the national average. 

While the general outcome improved over time, the state is losing ground in preschool enrollment, low birth weight rates, and teen obesity. The Natural State also saw a concerning increase in child and teen deaths.


Changes to lawmaking policies to protect Arkansas’ children 

The Casey Foundation and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) have proposed a series of actions and policy changes to help protect the states’ children and teens. 

“There are state-level policy solutions to every troubling piece of data,” said Rich Huddleston, executive director of AACF, Arkansas’s member of the KIDS COUNT network. “Lack of political will and lack of targeted investments in our children keeps Arkansas near the bottom of the states.

While Arkansas’s lawmakers this week begin debating giving generous tax cuts to the wealthiest Arkansans, we’ve got more children living in poverty, more students lacking proficiency in reading and math, and more teens giving birth than most other states.”

arkansas ranking annie foundation

AACF Recommends: 

  • Implement a 12-month postpartum coverage for new mothers in Medicaid versus the 60-day coverage that’s currently available. 
  • Allow pregnant women pre-approved Medicaid coverage eligibility based on their income level. 
  • Extend health insurance coverage through ARKids First health to children and babies in the lowest-income families, regardless of their family’s income fluctuations. 
  • Reform policies that make it unnecessarily harder for Arkansas families to enroll in the WIC program and obtain SNAP benefits.
  • Require scientifically based sex education in schools, and make it easier for Arkansans, including teens, to obtain long-acting contraception.
  • Overhaul the harsh policies in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to eliminate the family cap and increase the $203 monthly benefit. 

The Casey Foundation focused its suggestions on easing the mental health burdens on children and teens.


The Casey Foundation Suggests: 

  • Prioritize meeting kids’ basic needs of nutritious food, stable housing, financial stability, and safe neighborhoods. Youth who grow up in poverty are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than their peers.
  • Provide mental health care to every child when and where they need it by increasing the presence of social workers, psychologists, and mental health professionals in schools and the community. The American School Counselor Association recommends a 250-to-1 ratio of students to counselors. 
  • Allocate resources to mental health care programs designed based on young people’s experiences, identities, and culture, informed by the latest research and geared toward early intervention.


View the following resources from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families & the Annie Annie E. Casey Foundation: