What's initially striking about a new state report about Minnesota children eligible for health insurance through government programs for low-income people is how numerous those children are. Fully a third of Minnesotans between ages 0 and 17 — 420,000 in all — were poor enough to qualify for either Medicaid or MinnesotaCare last year. Forty percent of Minnesota babies were born to mothers insured by those programs.
That's 50 percent more than a decade ago. That alone is reason for concern. More troubling are the report's details about what it calls the "family risk factors" many of those children experience. Those are the situations and circumstances that research says "impede children's ability to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to become productive workers" and good citizens.
The report from the Department of Human Services says that of nearly 400,000 Medicaid- or MinnesotaCare-insured kids who lived with a parent last year:
• Three-fourths of them are SNAP (food stamp) recipients.
• Nearly two-thirds live in a single-parent household.
• A third live in an area of concentrated poverty, where at least 20 percent of residents have incomes at or below the federal poverty level ($20,090 for a family of three this year).
• A fourth have a parent who speaks a language other than English most of the time.
• A fifth have received child protection services within the past five years.
• 13 percent have a parent with a serious mental illness, and 10 percent have a parent who has had a chemical dependency diagnosis within the past 18 months.
• 8 percent have experienced homelessness within the past five years.
We suspect few Minnesotans can read these statistics and not be moved. Together, they say that far too many Minnesota children are growing up in circumstances that diminish their physical and mental health and their ability to learn. Their increasing numbers mean that their distress is everyone's problem.
If there's good news in the report, it's that these children are on the radar of at least one public program — health insurance. That means they are within reach of society's intervention.
Knowing that such large shares of children on MinnesotaCare and Medicaid are also experiencing other high-risk circumstances should show the stewards of those programs why it takes more than standard medical care to keep them safe and healthy. It should help those working to close the educational achievement gap see that they should be more closely allied with those focused on improving family health, nutrition and housing.
"This work gives us more insight into the lives of children in poverty," Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said. The challenge is to turn that insight into effective action.