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Key findings

Minnesota has an estimated 423,100 children age 5 and younger living in 87 counties.

Although every early childhood risk factor is a concern, no single risk factor determines a child's developmental trajectory. Nevertheless, cumulative risk has been found to be the most predictive of adverse outcomes in childhood and across the lifespan. There is no threshold at which intervention is futile.
The Risk, Reach, and Resilience study found:

  • About 131,000 children live in 14 counties categorized low risk. The counties with the most indicators at low risk levels are Carver, Washington, Scott, Wright, Morrison, and Nicollet.
  • About 74,000 children live in 29 counties categorized as low to moderate risk.
  • About 199,000 children live in 30 moderate-to-high risk counties, including Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Ramsey County fell in the high-risk category overall in 2015.
  • About 18,500 children live in 11 high-risk counties. The counties with the most indicators at high risk levels are Beltrami, Mahnomen, Cass, Pine, Mille Lacs, and Nobles. 
  • Eight of the 11 high-risk counties are also high risk for children living in poverty, and 5 of the 11 have high proportions of American Indian children, who tend to have more inequities accessing services and in well-being.
  • The reach of publicly funded early childhood programs in Minnesota varies by county and ranges from about 5 percent to about 60 percent of eligible children.
  • Throughout Minnesota, developmental risk levels are likely to rise without concerted efforts to rectify income inequality and racial inequities and to improve the reach of early childhood education, health, and family support programs.


Economic risks

  • In 2016, 10.5 percent of all births in the state were to mothers with less than a high school degree, up from nearly 8 percent in 2012. Twelve of Minnesota's counties (three more than in 2012) fall in the high-risk category on this indicator, all of which are located in greater Minnesota. Mahnomen County has the highest share (27%).
  • Statewide, 5.4 percent of children under age 6 have no parent in the labor force, ranging from 14.5 percent in Hubbard County to 1.5 percent in Carver County.
  • About 16 percent of children are living in poverty in Minnesota (poverty level is about $20,000 per year for a family of three and about $24,000 for a family of four). Fourteen counties spread throughout the state fall in the highest risk category on this indicator.

Health risks

  • The teen birth rate in Minnesota is 14 births per 1,000 girls age 15 to 19, down from 20 births since 2012. Eleven counties are high risk, 4 more than in 2012. Mahnomen, Watonwan, Nobles, and Cass counties have the highest rates at 59, 44, 38, and 34 births per 1,000 teen girls, respectively.
  • In 2016, an estimated 21 percent of births in Minnesota lacked adequate prenatal care, similar to the percentage in 2012 (22%). Most counties are low to moderate risk on this indicator. The 11 high-risk counties are scattered throughout the state, including multiple counties in the southeast and northwest regions.
  • In 2016, 5 percent of births were low-weight births (under 5.5 pounds). The 14 counties in the high-risk category are spread throughout the state. 
  • Minnesota's infant mortality rate is 5 deaths per 1,000 births. The rate in Cook County (16.3) and Mahnomen County (11.9) are the highest.
  • Four percent of children in Minnesota under age 6 lacked health care coverage (2012-2016), with the range stretching from under 2 percent in Jackson County to a high of 18 percent in Watonwan.
  • About 39 percent of 2-year-old children (age 24 through 35 months) lacked the recommended childhood immunizations in 2017. Immunization levels range from 50 percent in Roseau County to 89 percent in Traverse County. Thirteen counties fall into the high-risk category.

Family stability risks

  • Eighteen percent of children under age 5 changed residences at least once in the past year (2012-2016). Six counties fall in the high-risk category, down from 11 in the prior time period.
  • In 2016, 38 in 1,000 children under age 5 statewide had a maltreatment report filed during the year, up from 25 in 2013. Traverse County has the state's highest rate, at 141 per 1,000 children. 
  • In 2016, 13 in 1,000 children under age 6 statewide were in foster care, up from about 8 in 2013. Beltrami has the state's highest rate, at 99 per 1,000 children. 

Reach measures

Reach of health programs

  • Fifty-nine percent of eligible children under age 6 are served by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and children (WIC). That percentage is down from 70 percent in 2013 due to both an expansion in the number eligible and a reduction in the number served. In general, greater Minnesota counties have higher levels of WIC reach than counties in the metro area.
  • The Family Home Visiting Program reaches 13 percent of the targeted low-income families (at or below 185% of poverty level) with children under age 5. In general, high-reach counties tend to be in greater Minnesota.

Reach of human services

  • Nearly half of children under age 6 in low-income families (at or below 125% of poverty level) are covered by Minnesota Family Investment Program. The coverage ranges from 12 percent in Fillmore County to 100 percent in Red Lake County. In the Twin Cities metro area, Hennepin (61%) and Ramsey Counties (57%) have relatively high coverage levels.
  • Thirteen percent of children under age 6 in low-income families (at or below 200% of poverty level) are served by the Child Care Assistance Program, the same as in 2014. The coverage ranges from 3 percent in Todd County to 25 percent in Brown County. Counties in the southeast Minnesota, near Rochester, have high levels of CCAP reach, while counties in the northwest have lower levels.
  • Statewide, 49 per every 1,000 children under age 6 enrolled in Minnesota Health Care Programs were assessed and treated for mental health issues, up from 40 in 2013. The 10 low-reach and 10 high-reach counties are scattered across greater Minnesota.

Reach of education programs

  • About 38 percent of kindergartners received developmental screenings at age 3 by the Early Childhood Screening Program in 2016. The reach ranges from 21 percent in Hubbard County to about 75 percent in Big Stone, Douglas, Murray, and Red Lake counties. In the metro area, Hennepin (29%) and Ramsey (23%) counties have low reach levels.
  • Statewide, about 28 percent of eligible children under age 6 living in poverty are served by Head Start and Early Head Start. The coverage ranges from 11 percent or below in Carver and Washington counties in the metro area and Fillmore, Isanti, Rock, St. Louis, and Sibley counties in greater Minnesota to 80 percent or higher in Big Stone, Hubbard, Lac qui Parle, Marshall, Pennington, and Roseau counties. 
  • In 2017, 7 percent of all children under age 5 were served by early intervention and early childhood special education services, up from 4 percent in 2014, ranging from 1 to 14 percent of children per county. 
  • We added three early education programs in this report. In 2016-17, Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) served about 5 percent of children under age 5; the School Readiness Program served 14-15 percent of children age 3 and 4; and Voluntary Pre-kindergarten served about 5 percent of 4-year olds.

This resource is a useful tool to describe and compare indicators of early childhood development at the county level. However, incomplete data and a lack of a comprehensive, cross-agency, integrated early childhood data management system leave many questions unanswered about access to services, cumulative early childhood risk on the well-being of young children, and the relationship between risk and reach over time. Ultimately, data on child and family strengths and resilience would provide a more complete picture of early child development in Minnesota.

See how your county of interest is faring

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View risk measures and the reach of services for a specific county. Browse all counties or select below.


Sponsored By

The 2018 Minnesota Early Childhood Risk, Reach, and Resilience report was produced by a partnership of Wilder Research; Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota; and the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health, and Human Services, supported by a grant from the Irving Harris Foundation to the University of Minnesota


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