Report cites gains in child welfare
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FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2001

Health and welfare conditions of American Indian and Alaska Native children have improved over the past two decades, according to a federal report released on Thursday.

Low infant birth weight, infant mortality, child mortality and births to young mothers are some of the areas in which improvements have been made among Native Americans. The gains follow national trends among all ethnic and racial groups.

But since the report doesn't include statistics on poverty, tobacco use, drug and alcohol abuse, and juvenile crime in Indian Country, the full picture on the well-being of young Native Americans isn't immediately available. Data in these areas was left out due to reporting methods or small numbers, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, authors "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being: 2001," an annual monitoring report.

Other reports and data, however, confirm bleak statistics facing Native youth. According to the Census Bureau, for example, reservation counties are among the poorest in the nation, showing that Indian families fall well below the poverty line in many states.

Data from the Census Bureau also confirms that poverty among Native American families in the past few years has not improved. While poverty in the United States is at its lowest in 20 years, an average of 25.9 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives lived in poverty during the year 1997 to 1999.

Tobacco usage is also high among Native youth. According to a Health and Human Services survey released last year, 43.1 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 12 and above reported using tobacco, the highest in the nation.

The same holds true for illicit drug use. In 1999, Native youth ages 12-17 reported the highest usage of illicit drugs, despite being the smallest segment of the population. Illicit drug use among youth for the rest of the country, meanwhile, has been dropping.

Even though health conditions in some areas have improved, there remain a number of disparities, according to yesterday's report. The infant mortality rate among Native Americans has consistently been the second highest over the past two decades and stands at 13.9 deaths per 100,000 as of 1998, significantly higher than Whites, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans.

American Indian and Alaska Native children died from injuries at high rates as well. In 1998, Native youth ages 15-19 had the second highest motor vehicle injury rate while Native males had the highest firearm injury rate.

Teen births among Native females ages 15-17 have dropped over the past two decades. In 1999, the birth rate for Natives was 41 per 1,000 births, the third highest in the nation.

The improvements, said Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, are welcome news. "These findings represent important victories for children and adolescents," he said.

Get the Report:
America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being: 2001 (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics 7/19)

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