Montana ranks in the upper half of states for child wellbeing, according to an annual report. But mental health among young people remains a concern.
The KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks states based on four categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. This year, it places the Treasure State at 20th.
Xanna Burg is KIDS COUNT coordinator with the Montana Budget and Policy Center. She noted that depression and anxiety are high among Montana children and teens.
"The reality here is that Montana youth have struggled with mental health for years," said Burg. "So this isn't a new topic. But the concerning piece and really, the urgency behind talking about this now, is that the trends really are getting worse."
The data was collected from 2020, the first year of the pandemic. The report, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 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. In Montana, the number was 13.4%.
Burg said more counselors in schools is one way to addressing these growing numbers, although she noted that the solutions might look different in rural communities.
"Rural communities might not have the student population to fund a full-time counselor," said Burg. "So, ways to think about sharing staff among school systems, implementing telehealth or partnering with other community health services may be other ways to think about how this need is filled."
The number of children in poverty has improved, but Burg said it's still concerning that 34,000 Montana kids are living in families with incomes below the poverty line.
She said the federal government has offered supports, such as additional food assistance during the pandemic, but noted that this help is likely to expire soon.
"So, at a state level," said Burg, "thinking about how we're supporting families that are still struggling to afford things like healthy food, so that when kids show up to school, they're ready to learn and they're not thinking about being hungry."
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.