Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 16, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

2008 Kids Count


  • We look at how Arizona fares in an annual study that measures children�s health and safety. Dana Naimark of the Children�s Action Alliance is the guest.
Guests:
  • Dana Naimark - President and CEO, Children's Action Alliance here in Arizona


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening, and thanks for joining us tonight on "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. In news today, Sylvia Allen was sworn into the Arizona senate. Allen is filling a vacancy created by the death of longtime Arizona legislator Jake Flake. Allen, a snowflake resident, has also been chosen by Republicans to replace Flake on the ballot this year. Flake had been running unopposed, but Democrats now say they will find a write-in candidate to run against Allen. Flake died at his home of a heart attack on June 8th.

Ted Simons:
A bill that would have prohibited the sale of animals from the side of the road and in parks failed today in the senate. Only Maricopa and Pima counties would have been affected. If passed, the offenders would have been charged with a misdemeanor and could have served up to four months in jail. Also, try to stay cool, the Valley is under an excessive heat warning through Tuesday. Temperatures are expected to hover around 112 degrees. Officials are recommending that you stay out of the sun as much as possible and drink plenty of water. Well, Arizona's kids are not faring as well as they were last year. That's the result of the 2008 Kids Count Data Book released last week. This year Arizona ranks 39th overall in the annual report by the Anna E. Casey Foundation. Last year we ranked 36th. Joining me to talk about the implications of the rating and what the state should be doing is Dana Naimark. She's the president and CEO of the Children's Action Alliance here in Arizona. Dana, good to have you back on the show.

Dana Naimark:
Thank you.

Ted Simons:
First of all, before we get to the numbers and crunch some things here, what is Kids Count?

Dana Naimark:
Kids Count is an effort to collect data that can be compared across the states, so that we can have a benchmark as to how we're doing in conditions for kids. And the Anna E. Casey Foundation, based in Baltimore, collects this data, and they publish this annual report that compares and ranks the states, but also includes a great richness of information that we all can use as we work to make changes.

Ted Simons:
Things like health, education, these sorts of things?

Dana Naimark:
That's right.

Ted Simons:
Sounds like we dropped a few notches. What's going on here with the rankings?

Dana Naimark:
We did drop a few notches. Not much changed dramatically from last year. We did slip a bit in our child death rate, which is of course very concerning. And actually the child suicide rate for children 14 and younger went up from last year, so that's something we need to pay attention to. Also, the accidental death rate for accidents other than drowning and car accidents. So issues of bike safety, safety around the home, we need to pay attention to that.

Ted Simons:
So the child death rate does have some explanation here? It's not just a number that happens to be worse the past year, as opposed to previous years?

Dana Naimark:
It is a little bit worse than last year, and that's why our ranking dropped and that actually contributed to our overall ranking dropping to 39.

Ted Simons:
Again, when you talk about child suicide, I guess there are programs and ways to try to get some intervention going here. In terms of accidents, and other things though, is this something that can be addressed, or is it something that, again, kind of goes up and down as the years go by?

Dana Naimark:
Well, a little bit of both. Certainly things go up and down. But certainly we can address child safety through being much more aware, taking preventative action, wearing bike helmets is a big one, and safety around the home. So there are things we can do.

Ted Simons:
I know this year's report highlighted the juvenile justice system. Talk about that.

Dana Naimark:
Well it did highlight juvenile justice. What the Casey Foundation found is pretty striking. Really they concluded that what states all across the country do in practice is the opposite of what we know works for public safety and kids and taxpayers. They point out six areas where really the whole country can improve, but we need to work at it on a state by state level. Primarily the issue is helping youth in their own families and their own communities, and relying less on locking them up in detention and in state facilities.

Ted Simons:
It sounds as though, three or four kids in custody here in Arizona are there -- locked up, for lack of a better phrase -- for nonviolent offenses?

Dana Naimark:
That's right. And I think that would be surprising to a lot of Arizonans. Because we think that the kids who are locked up or incarcerated are there because they're violent and they're a threat. Most of them are there for nonviolent offenses. What the research tells us we can accomplish our goals a lot more effectively and a lot more cost-effectively by having supervised treatment in communities, rather than removing kids from their home.

Ted Simons:
That would be one idea. Are systemic reforms, though, needed regarding something like this?

Dana Naimark:
They are. Right now we have a variety of successful programs around the state. But they're spotty, they're here and there. And so we really do need to reform the system so that that becomes the normal, rather than incarcerating youths.

Ted Simons:
What keeps the system from being reformed?

Dana Naimark:
Well, it's a variety of things. Part of it is habit. We get used to what we've done before. And part of it is we are used to somewhat of a centralized system. So we focused on our state department of juvenile corrections and state facilities. It takes more energy, more leadership, more collaboration, to make sure we have successful programs all around the state.

Ted Simons:
Good news though here regarding the violent crime arrest rate for youth, below the U.S. average.

Dana Naimark:
Yes it is very good news. Our rate is about 15\% below the average. So I think that's something to be proud of.

Ted Simons:
Any reasons there? Any program that worked, or what's going on?

Dana Naimark:
I think it's a combination of efforts, of really focusing on our families and our youth. A few years ago we had a big focus on keeping teenagers out of trouble. So I think that's paying off to some extent.

Ted Simons:
Is the threat of a lawsuit, the feds, the justice department looking at safety, in terms of correctional facilities these sorts of things. Is that threat affecting things, do you think?

Dana Naimark:
We were under threat of lawsuit for our state correctional facilities for youth. There were some very horrible conditions that youth were living in, and a lack of treatment or lack of services. We've done a lot to correct that over the last few years. So now the trick is to sustain that, and to make sure that we stay on top of it, don't let things deteriorate again.

Ted Simons:
The study also showed fourth grade reading, we are ranked 47th. What gives?

Dana Naimark:
I think this is the scariest number in the whole report. Only about one out of four fourth grade students in Arizona scored proficient or better on reading. That's on a standardized test that's given across the country, purposefully to compare students in all the states. We know that's a very bad sign, because we know that fourth grade reading is a predictor. Kids who fall behind and don't read well by fourth grade are often on a track of failing in school later on and having multiple problems.

Ted Simons:
Why? So much money and so much attention in the state goes to education, yet ranked 47th? Why is this happening?

Dana Naimark:
We do spend a lot of money on education compared to what we spend on other things. But compared to other states in the country, we are at the bottom of the barrel. We have very large class sizes on average, and we haven't invested enough in our teachers and our curriculum. There's a lot more we can do together, both with leadership and with investment, that I think we can make an improvement there. The other key thing for those fourth grade reading scores is reaching out to kids at very early ages. We know what happens to them before they ever start kindergarten does affect their early learning. And we can do much more at providing families with opportunities for preschool and quality child care to start them off well.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned other states and how well they are doing. Which states did well overall in this survey?

Dana Naimark:
New Hampshire was number one, and other northeastern states were in the top 10. Massachusetts, Connecticut, so they were in the top. The bottom is Mississippi, as they have been for a while, and other states around Mississippi are at the bottom. And then we were right before those states.

Ted Simons:
We're not too far away.

Dana Naimark:
We are not far away.

Ted Simons:
What can we learn from New Hampshire and New England? And conversely, what can we learn from those states that are behind us, to not do, and learn from New England on what we should be doing?

Dana Naimark:
Right. We certainly have some challenges that perhaps New Hampshire and other New England states don't have. One of those is our growth. We've been a high-growing state. We have a very high-growing child population, and it's hard for us to keep up with that. So we really need to stay vigilant and to remember that, while we all work for growth for our economy, a responsibility comes with that growth, as well.

Ted Simons:
It seems like whenever we get some of these studies, we're always ranked down there in some way, shape or form. From where you sit, why is this happening?

Dana Naimark:
Well a variety of reasons. As you know, we have a very mobile community. A lot of people moving in and out, a lot of people don't have deep roots here. And that means families don't have places to turn when they're in need and in trouble. And I think in the northeast there are a lot more community institutions, as well as public investment. So families have places to turn. And that's really the key, that - make sure parents have resources they can reach out for, before they're in crisis

Ted Simons:
Until Arizona becomes more stable or settled, doesn't become such a transient state, we've just got to live with these?

Dana Naimark:
No, we don't. We can take action and we can make changes, as we have in many areas. We've actually reduced our rate of uninsured children over the years, thanks to Kids Care, a public-private partnership that we've invested in since 1998. We can actually see the results. There are things we can do like that, when we put our minds to it and make it a priority, we can move up that ladder as we should.

Ted Simons:
Dana, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

Dana Naimark:
Thank you.

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