August 8, 2022

Florida Lawmakers Must Do More to Improve Child Well-Being

In the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report evaluating states on indicators of child well-being, Florida — after modest improvements in rankings over time — remains 35th in the nation.

Each year, the Foundation uses 16 publicly available indicators of child well-being organized into four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.  All of these come from publicly available national data so the states can be directly compared. Trend data is also presented for each variable to show change over time.

Below, FPI looks at each domain as compared to 2008-20121:

Economic Well-Being

Florida’s domain ranking is 42nd in economic well-being. Comparing 2016-2020 to 2008-2012, there are improvements noted in the share of children living in poverty (19 percent), which decreased by 14 percent; there are also fewer families where parents lack full time, year round employment (28 percent), fewer families spending 30 percent or more of their household income on housing (36 percent) and fewer teenagers not in school or at work (7 percent).


Florida ranks 13th in education and has shown good progress in the high school graduation rate since 2010. There were no significant differences between the years 2008-2012 and 2016-2020 for the number of 3- and 4-year old children in school (49 percent), the number of fourth graders scoring less than proficient in reading (62 percent) or the number of eighth graders scoring below proficient in math (69 percent).


The Sunshine State ranks 35th in the health domain. In 2021, Florida ranked 31st. There were no significant differences in the percent of low birth weight babies (8.7 percent), the number of child and teen deaths per 100,000 (29), and the percent of children considered overweight or obese (33 percent). While the share of uninsured children (7 percent) is significantly lower than it was 10 years earlier, this percentage is again on the rise in recent years.

Family and Community

Florida’s family and community domain ranking, 32nd, remains unchanged from 2021. However, there has been a significant reduction since 2008 in the number of families in which the household head lacks a high school diploma (11 percent), fewer children living in high poverty neighborhoods (8 percent), and a decline of 53 percent in the teen birth rate (15 percent).

Taken together, there is still much to be done to support Florida’s families. While fewer families spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and mortgage than they did in 2008-2012, more than one-third of Florida families still spend a disproportionate amount on their housing.  In the health domain, little or no progress has been made in reducing the number of low birth weight babies or reducing childhood obesity.  Non-significant gains were observed in students’ proficiency in math and reading; however, nearly two-thirds of fourth grade students struggle with reading and more than two-thirds of eighth graders are below proficiency in math.

Report Focuses on Mental Health

For the first time in its report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is addressing the state of youth mental health. While not yet incorporated into the index itself, the Foundation includes data on the levels of anxiety and depression among children ages 3-17, noting that it has increased from 9.3 percent in 2016-2017 to 10.9 percent in 2019-2020 . The uptick in anxiety and depression among youth and young adults is corroborated in other data sources, including the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and Household Pulse Survey. The increase in mental distress must be understood in a holistic context in which mental well-being and physical well-being are intertwined. Mental well-being is affected by housing and economic stability, by being born at a healthy birth weight and having access to affordable, quality health care. Mental well-being needs to be considered and invested in as part of the safety net. However, that is not happening in Florida.

Mental well-being is affected by housing and economic stability, by being born at a healthy birth weight and having access to affordable, quality health care. Mental well-being needs to be considered and invested in as part of the safety net. However, that is not happening in Florida.

Florida Lawmakers Can Take Steps to Invest in the Safety Net – Including Mental Health

There are opportunities to enhance Florida’s safety net, including mental health infrastructure.  The state could opt to draw down federal funds to expand Mobile Response Teams that can provide crisis intervention services for rising mental health needs.  While the launch of the 988 suicide prevention help line in July is intended to improve access to crisis services, such services and community-based supports must be in place for those using the help line.  Also key is improving access to health insurance by expanding Medicaid. In addition to physical health benefits, Medicaid includes robust mental health benefits. If Florida expanded Medicaid, it would help 108,000 parents who fall into the coverage gap. They have too much income to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidized private insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. To help monitor this mental health crisis, the state could reinstate the Youth Risk Behavior Survey that monitors five domains of youth health, including mental well-being. All of these steps could significantly bolster mental health resources in Florida.

There are other opportunities to bolster the safety net as well. Florida can draw down federal funds for the Summer Pandemic Electronic Benefits Program (Summer P-EBT) and feed 2.8 million children. These funds feed children under six who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as well as school-aged children who received free or reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program in school year 2021-22.


[1]Historically, the data book has used one-year estimates to develop the index. Due to lags in data collection and poor data quality due to the COVID pandemic, three of the four data sources delayed releasing results for 2021.  Five-year estimates are used in the present report to improve reliability of the data.

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