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MISSOURI (KSNF/KODE) — Children in Missouri are facing unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression — that’s according to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report finds mental health is a concern across the country, as kids felt the pressures from COVID-19. Nationally, nearly 12% of children had anxiety or depression, while in Missouri it was about 11%.

(Image courtesy: 2022 Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation)
(Image courtesy: 2022 Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation)

Tracy Greever-Rice is with Missouri Family and Community Trust, part of the Kids Count network. She said it’s crucial that kids have access to mental-health care.

“In metropolitan areas we have clusters of mental and behavioral health professionals. But in more rural areas, access becomes more of a challenge and becomes impacted by non-clinical things like transportation,” said Greever-Rice.

She added that affordable health-coverage options, either through private insurance or Medicaid, also is key to ensuring access to care. About 6% of Missouri kids lack health insurance, according to the report.

Missouri showed improvement in all of the report’s economic indicators, including a lower child poverty rate than the national average.

Leslie Boissiere, Vice President for External Affairs with the Casey Foundation, said the federal government has offered support, such as additional food assistance during the pandemic, but claims that help is likely to expire soon.

“It’s incredibly important that decisionmakers seize the opportunity and the lessons learned during the COVID-19 period, when more resources were provided to families, so that we can make sure that every child has their basic needs met and that the overall well-being of children increases,” said Boissiere.

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Areas considered to be “sore spots” for Missouri in the Kids Count data, include fourth-grade reading proficiency and eighth-grade math proficiency, as well as the percentage of low-birth weight babies, and youths who are overweight or obese.

Greever-Rice said these are areas where good short-term and long-term policies can make a big difference in kids’ lives as they mature into adulthood.

“Attentiveness to these issues will make a big difference and prevention is not just good for individuals but also more efficient and a less expensive of a way to do public policy,” said Greever-Rice.

Overall, Missouri ranks 27th for child well-being.