New national statistics on the well-being of children in the U.S. show Alaska at the bottom of the ranks for health and education.

The 2019 Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows the children of Alaska are hurting. The study lists Alaska last in the nation for children's health and ranked 49th in education. 

"One of the most valuable resources are our children," said Trevor Storrs, president and CEO of Alaska Children's Trust, which announced the data Monday. "They are the future of our state, but today Alaska's children are hurting and families are suffering." 

According to the report, Alaska ranks 45th for overall child well-being. Alaska was in the middle of the pack, ranked 27th, in the 2015 Kids Count Data Book.

The data book focuses on four categories:

•     economic well-being
•     education
•     health
•     family and community

"A major change we saw this year in health was in the increase in percentage of children and teen deaths," Storrs said. "Last year, we had a rate of 43 per 100,000. This year we have a rate of 52 per 100,000." 

Jared Parrish, a senior epidemiologist with the state Department of Health of Social Services, said the high youth mortality rate in Alaska is preventable. 

"We live in an untamed environment largely. Something that may not result in a fatality in the Lower 48 might result in a fatality up here just because of our access to care," he said. "And what supervision might need to be here, relative to somewhere else."

Parrish pointed to a lack of parental supervision as a factor in the state's child mortality rate and it plays a role in Alaska's unintentional injuries and deaths. Other contributors include not knowing what to do when an accident occurs and unique types of transportation Alaskans use, such as snowmachines and all-terrain vehicles. 

"We see a lot of our fatalities, that when we review them, that simply using a helmet in large part could prevent a lot of these unintentional injuries," Parrish said.

Drowning is another big issue in the state. Parrish explained the types of drownings that occur in Alaska don't happen in swimming pools; they happen around open water and typically during activities that aren't related to swimming.

Wearing helmets, life jackets and learning how to swim are simple ways to prevent child deaths.

When it comes to Alaska's low education ranking, Parrish said trauma, lack of food, family life and isolation would be the first places to start addressing the problem. 

"We need to understand the context of where we're living a little bit better," Parrish said. "I think we need to understand how to better supervise our children in a environment that is potentially challenging some places."

The state and the Alaska Children's Trust use the data book to begin conversations that, hopefully, will evolve into solutions. For Storrs, that means having in-depth and challenging discussions about how Alaskans should invest in children and families.

"We need to be looking at our state budget and really determining where do we want our dollars to go. Do we want them continually going towards building a correctional facility?" Storrs asked. "Or do we want it to go toward pre-K, which we know over a long-term investment will reduce the number of children and adults that enter the correctional system and other systems that are high costing to us as a state?"

Both Parrish and Storrs said it's through education that the community and the state can work together to begin changing behaviors and reversing the trend.

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