CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire has dropped from its traditional top spot in a national survey of children's well-being in part because of its rapidly rising child poverty rate.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count report released Tuesday ranks New Hampshire fourth best, behind Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa. New Hampshire had been ranked first in the nation for more than 10 years.
The report compared data from 2005 to 2012. During that time, New Hampshire made improvements in education, health and safety, but its child poverty rate grew from 9 percent to 16 percent. Nationally, the percentage of children living in poverty grew from 19 percent to 23 percent.
New Hampshire also scored worse in several other categories in 2012 compared with 2005, including children whose parents lack secure employment and children living in households with burdensome housing costs. In most of those areas, the national picture also worsened.
"We are deeply concerned that the economic well-being of New Hampshire's children is not improving," said Ellen Fineberg, executive director of NH Kids Count.
In Manchester, the state's largest city, a quarter of children live in poverty and the city's fast growing population of "poor" is children under the age of 18. With support from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and other funders, the city health department has been tackling the problem with neighborhood-based health improvement initiatives.
Deputy Health Director Anna Thomas said the breaking point for her was when the percentage of children enrolled in the free or reduced-price lunch program hit 50 percent.
"Every year, we monitor these statistics and they keep adding up. What's even more unsettling is, in Manchester, our statistics always seem to be at least double the state numbers," she said.
The new effort brings together community leaders and administrators across multiple agencies, such as education and law enforcement. Participants knocked on 500 doors to get citizen feedback to develop seven priority recommendations in six areas, including educational achievement, healthy behaviors and social connectedness.
"It's a different approach because we're trying to be more proactive and upstream, and we're also expanding the reach. We're not just looking at the health measures," Thomas said.
For example, on recommendation is to create opportunities for youth and families to become leaders in improving their neighborhood safety and quality of life, so officials will be offering a school-based training course called "Leader in Me." To tackle the problem of poor children missing school, the city hopes to use a more individual, case management approach to make sure parents value education and get the help they need to ensure they send their kids to school.
"No one agency is going to be able to do this alone. We need lots of people to take this on and see themselves in this campaign," she said. "Everything we're trying to instill has to be reinforced by other facets of the community."