inside sources print logo
Get up to date New Hampshire news in your inbox

New Hampshire One of America’s Best on Child Well-Being

New Hampshire is one of the best states in the country for children, according to the most recent Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count report.

It is second only to Massachusetts when it comes to how well children thrive. The Kids Count data book looks at economic health, education, health, and family and community data. The data show the Northeast is one of the best regions in the country overall for kids.

“A child’s chances of thriving depend not only on individual, family and community characteristics but also on the state in which they are born and raised,” the report states. “States vary considerably in their wealth and other resources. Policy choices and investments by state officials and lawmakers also strongly influence children’s chances for success.”

Gov. Chris Sununu said the report shows New Hampshire is on the right track when it comes to making sure children thrive. The state has made key investments to help support communities and families, he said.

“Here in New Hampshire, our investments in mental health and public education have delivered results for children and families across the 603 – earning the Granite State the #2 spot for family and community and #2 for overall child well-being,” Sununu said. “With top rankings in economic well-being, best education, and best health too, these rankings all make one thing clear: New Hampshire is the best state for in the country for families.”

The Kids Count report shows New Hampshire is second for overall child well-being; second for family and community; second for health, up from third in 2021; fourth for economic well-being, up from sixth in 2021; and fourth for education, up from fifth in 2021.

Sununu said New Hampshire continues to earn recognition for the high quality of life in the Granite State. Recent studies have placed New Hampshire first for Overall Freedom; first for Public Safety and Corrections; first for Economic Freedom; the fastest growing economy in the nation; the fastest growing state in the Northeast; the lowest poverty rate in the country; and a top emerging housing market.

There are still serious problems facing New Hampshire’s children, however. The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to a mental health crisis, especially for kids, as the families and communities try to emerge from the disruptive pandemic measures.

“Schools went virtual. So did many jobs, while others vanished, and the economy convulsed. We isolated ourselves and our families. The health care system buckled even as doctors, nurses, researchers, and others strove tirelessly to save lives. By July 2022, over 1 million people in America had died from the novel coronavirus, including more than 1,600 children. Over 200,000 kids in the United States lost a parent or primary caregiver during that same period. In short, the coronavirus upended everyday life to an extent not seen since World War II,” the report states.

Reports of anxiety and depression are up 27.8 percent among Granite State children, above the national increase of 25.5 percent, according to the report. Much of the increase is seen as a reaction to two years of pandemic life.

“COVID-19 took hold in the United States in March 2020. It shuttered schools and childcare facilities; canceled youth sports and activities; and shut down libraries and recreational centers. It also cut off access to the places where children hang out informally: malls, movie theaters, and even outdoor playgrounds. Suddenly, most kids’ only connection with their peers was through the screens on their mobile devices, if they had them,” the report states.

“From lost playtime for younger children to canceled proms, graduations, and summer jobs for teens, the world simply stopped being what it had been for millions of young people. Teens reported spikes in symptoms of anxiety or depression as they weathered uncertainty, fear, and concerns for the health and safety of themselves, their families, and their friends.”

Cassandra Sanchez, New Hampshire’s Child Advocate, said the state is in a mental health crisis. Families across the state are struggling to get the help they need. Because of a shortage of counselors and therapists in New Hampshire, families are waiting months to be able to get help, she said.

“We are just in a very tough time where the openings in the workforce for those services are not completely filled,” Sanchez said. “We have high needs, and not enough people to deliver the services for those needs.”

Sanchez said efforts are being made to attract and hire more workers, including raising wages to bring people from out of state.

“We need competitive pay to attract people,” she said.

New Hampshire Best New England State for Veterans

New Hampshire is the fifth-best place in America — and the best state in New England — for military retirees. Neighboring Vermont ranks dead last.

That was the finding of a new data analysis by Wallethub that reviewed overall economic opportunity, quality of life, and access to healthcare for veterans. New Hampshire was number five, just ahead of Maine (8), Connecticut (11), and Massachusetts (14). Rhode Island came in a dismal 43. Vermont was at the bottom of the list.

Part of New Hampshire’s appeal to veterans is the low tax environment. Jeremiah Gunderson, director of Veteran and Military Affiliated Services at the University of Texas at Austin, said military retirees want to be where their military pension will not get taxed.

“I find it ridiculous that we make people pay taxes after choosing to sacrifice so much of their lives in service to their nation,” Gunderson said. “As tax-funded employees of the DOD, with taxpayer-funded retirement pay, why are we taking taxes on tax-generated retirement pay?”

Radio host Jack Heath, host of the syndicated show Good Morning New Hampshire, is an outspoken advocate for veterans through his work with Fusion Cell, an organization that helps veterans transition to civilian life. He also does an annual radiothon to raise money to help veterans. This year he brought in $104,000.

Word is spreading about the opportunities in New Hampshire for military retirees, Heath told NHJournal.

“I think there’s increasingly a growing network that veterans leaving the military are hearing about,” Heath said.

New Hampshire has a high percentage of military retirees among its residents despite not being home to a large military base or installation.

Heath said veterans are attracted to the 603 way of life, but also find they can also get help making the switch from military to civilian life.

“I met a lot of veterans. They move here because of family, a lot of them have never been here. They love the state motto, they hear the quality of life is good, the schools are good, and they are surprised by the support,” Heath said.

There is no veterans service hub in the state, so Easter Seals and its Veterans Count team try to be a one-stop shop for military retirees who need help. Stephanie Higgs, clinical director for Easter Seals New Hampshire Military and Veterans Services, said many veterans need services most Granite Staters need, like access to health care, mental health care, and access to affordable housing. Unfortunately, the current labor shortage is impacting the ability of veterans to get help.

“We know some of the services vets struggle with right now are the same things civilians struggle with,” Higgs said. “The demand is greater than the capacity to meet that demand right now.”

Heath said he was surprised when he started working with Fusion Cell to learn about the difficulties many veterans have when they get out of the military. The culture change is enormous, and the military services do not prepare the retirees for life on the outside.

“It’s a culture shock,” Heath said. “I’ve seen some veterans take months or a year to really get adjusted.”

Gunderson said one problem veterans face is that their military specialty rarely translates into employment qualifications in the civilian world.

“As an example, I was a medic in the Army with two deployments to Iraq and considerable experience running a clinic,” he said. “However, when I left the military I was not qualified to do anything other than possibly EMT basic.”

Fusion Cell works to connect veterans with civilian job opportunities, getting them the support they need to succeed in the world.

For the most part, New Hampshire does a good job in offering a variety of services to veterans, both Heath and Higgs said. But while there are many programs or organizations in the state to assist veterans, there is no coordinated platform to connect the overturns to the groups. Heath said the state government should step in and serve as a liaison.

“I bust my butt trying to do it every day, but we really need the state to do a better job,” Heath said.

As for the rest of New Hampshire, Heath wants Granite Staters to be good to the veterans all around.

“Be aware of the veterans are in our community, of the families who sacrificed while they were serving,” he said.

NH School Safety Fund Nearly Out of Cash

As the nation reels from another school shooting, New Hampshire’s fund to improve security in public school buildings is nearly empty. 

The Public School Infrastructure fund spent close to $30 million since its inception in 2018. While there is a little more than $2 million left in it, no more grant applications are being accepted and any major reinvestment is yet to be formally approved.

That may change as the Public School Infrastructure Commission is set to meet next week for the first time since 2020 to decide on possibly continuing the program.

“New Hampshire has been quietly funding school building security upgrades for years, at the state and local levels, and we’ve made some real progress. But there’s a lot left to do,” said Drew Cline, chair of the state Board of Education.

The Public School Infrastructure Commission approved hundreds of grants to schools to pay for things like improved security cameras, stinger doors and windows, and other facilities improvements to make schools more secure. The fund was created as part of Gov. Chris Sununu’s efforts to make schools safer following the Parkland, Fla. shooting when 17 people were killed by a lone gunman who entered the school building.

Sununu put together a task force to study school safety issues. It found many old buildings where Granite State children learn are outdated when it comes to basic life-safety features. The report also found a need to create more secure entries at the schools so staff can control who gets in and who stays out.

“Facilities upgrades focus on controlling access to the school, identifying the people in the school, and slowing the progress of an assailant while help arrives. It is important to note that creating a more secure school has benefits beyond the physical safety of staff and students. Research shows that students have a fundamental need to feel safe in school, and they derive that feeling in part by feeling physically protected from threats. In this way, a mental health benefit is derived from increasing school security,” the task force report states.

Sununu told NH Journal he wants to see more money put toward making schools safer.

“From our historic school safety task force report to our first-of-its-kind $30 million fund to help every school strengthen safety in their schools — ensuring kids can be safe in school has been a priority for years, and we are committed to making additional investments in order to keep our children safe,” Sununu said.

It’s not “mission accomplished” yet. New Hampshire schools continue working on their safety plans and districts make regular updates to the state.

“You simply cannot put a price on a life, whether that is a child or an educator,” said Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut. “School districts have made great strides to produce safe and secure buildings, expand preparedness resources, implement new technologies and offer training – all to ensure that.”

Schools are required to submit Emergency Operations Plans to the state for review, and Edelblut said that has been part of the plan to enhance security and safety in New Hampshire schools.

“Safety is neither reactionary nor an afterthought in New Hampshire and keeping our children safe is the absolute number one priority,” Edelblut said.

Details are still emerging from the Robb Elementary School shooting, where a lone gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle shot dozens of students, killing 19 children and two teachers. There have been conflicting reports about the initial response, but it appears he was able to barricade himself in the school building for close to an hour as heavily armed police stood outside the building.

The political debate after the shooting is following the familiar script, with Democrats calling for more gun control and ignoring solutions to the terrifying issue.

The Florida commission that investigated the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School recommended some teachers be allowed to carry firearms during the school day, an idea that U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-Manchester) mocked when it was broached after the Parkland shooting.

“I can’t think of a more ridiculous idea than what’s been pushed by the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos to use federal dollars to arm teachers,” Pappas said.

Former Chief Justice John Broderick, who served on the task force, said that while New Hampshire schools have become safer over the last few years, the real danger is being ignored.

“The problem with school shootings is almost always social-emotional health,” Broderick said.

Broderick is a mental health advocate and has talked to students at hundreds of middle schools and high schools about mental health. He said a shockingly high number of students deal with depressing and suicidal ideation.

“We invest a lot of money, in every state in the country, in failure,” he said. “I mean we spend a lot of money building bigger jails and prisons, and usually by the time people get there a lot of damage has been done.”