About 2,200 more children in Hawaii suffered from anxiety and depression in 2020, a 23% increase from 2016, according to a nationwide study released Monday.
The 2022 Kids Count Data Book, which tracks state trends for children, found Hawaii ranked in the lowest third of the United States for educational (35th) and economic (34th) well-being. ) children, who were disproportionately affected. by the pandemic due to the high unemployment rate in the islands at the time.
The report was released ahead of Hawaii’s primary on Saturday, and supporters said they hope policymakers and candidates pay attention.
“It’s a good time because the kids have just returned to school in Hawaii, and just to remind leaders that we shouldn’t just be focused on getting kids back to school, but making sure that they’re okay with their sanity,” Nicole Woo, director of research and economic policy at the Hawaii Children’s Action Network, said in an interview.
“We all know the pandemic has been very hard on our children,” Woo added. “They couldn’t go to school for a year, a lot of activities were canceled and they couldn’t see their friends.” The Hawaii Children’s Action Network was a state partner for the report.
The annual survey, released by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked states on 16 indicators in four categories. The island state fared better in terms of rankings for health (fifth) and family and community (15th), according to the report, which measured data from 2016 to 2020 to assess the effects of the pandemic.
Hawaii earned an overall ranking of 22nd, up four notches from the 2021 report, which compared stats from 2010 to 2019. But advocates expressed particular concern about mental health as the report estimated that 5.9 % of children ages 3-17 suffered from anxiety or depression in 2020, up from 4.8% in 2016.
David Sun-Miyashiro, executive director of the nonprofit organization HawaiiKidsCan, said he was not surprised by the report’s findings.
“We’re ready for a perfect storm of challenges,” Sun-Miyashiro said. “Even before the pandemic, we weren’t necessarily doing our best to take care of our children and our families.”
The report notes that Hawaii’s children suffered disproportionately early in the pandemic amid school closures and restrictions that essentially shuttered the state’s main tourism industry, leading to record unemployment.
Ivette Stern of the Center on the Family at the University of Hawaii said the report raised alarm bells.
“We know from research that children who grow up in families experiencing economic hardship feel the brunt of that stress,” Stern said. “That’s why we absolutely must support Hawaii families, achieve economic security and improve access.”
Hawaii was in the bottom 10 states for several key metrics, including findings that 72% of eighth graders scored below proficiency levels in math, about 9% of teens ages 16-19 are not went to school or work and 37% of all children in the state lived in families that spent more than a third of their income on housing.
Woo said there have been legislative efforts in the past to ensure school psychologists are accredited and well paid, but those measures have failed. She added that her organization would again support these bills if they were introduced next year.
“Anything our Legislature, our Governor, our County Councils can do to ensure that parents can afford their accommodation and make ends meet, it will help relieve the mental stress of children and ensure that they are able to thrive academically,” she added.
With a budget surplus, Hawaii lawmakers allocated billions of dollars to initiatives to help families with the state’s high cost of living, and the governor signed legislation providing tax refunds $100 to $300.
But defenders said more needed to be done.
Sun-Miyashiro welcomed the tax refunds approved this year, but said he would like to see them go up to $1,000 for families in need.
“I think, as we see in this ranking, we can’t just rely on the status quo,” he said.
“There’s a lot of good work going on in the state right now,” he continued. “A lot of schools are working hard on career paths and career preparation opportunities for students, but there’s definitely a lot of work to be done.”
Civil Beat health coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, the Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, the Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.