Risk, reach, and resilience

Fast facts

1 in 6 young children live below poverty

16% of children under age 6 live in poverty in Minnesota. The poverty threshold is about $20,000 per year for a family of three, and about $24,000 for a family of four.
16 %

1 in 5 births lack adequate prenatal care

21% of births in Minnesota lack adequate prenatal care, placing those infants at higher health risk. Inadequate prenatal care poses risks for both mother and child and has been linked to increased rates of infant morbidity and mortality.
21 %

2 in 5 two-year-olds lack recommended immunizations

39% of two-year-old children are not up to date on the recommended childhood immunizations. Immunizations are important, particularly in light of recent increases in outbreaks of preventable communicable diseases like measles.
39 %

1 in 5 children has moved residences in the past year

At 18%, Minnesota's rate of child mobility is similar to the national rate of 20%. Rising mobility rates, particularly for low-income children, are cause for concern, as the lack of a stable residence has been found to hinder children's academic, socio-emotional, and behavioral development.
18 %
Young girl hugging baby

Why this matters

Reporting information on the experiences of young children at the county level in Minnesota is useful because our state is one of nine states that deliver services through a "state-supervised and county-administered" system. That is, state agencies set the rules, distribute state and federal funds through competitive or formula grants, and monitor county performance. The 87 Minnesota counties are responsible for delivering social services, public health, and other services.

Counties also raise additional revenue through property taxes, sales taxes, and fees. In counties with low property values, high levels of poverty, and limited economic activity, less revenue is available for service delivery, which contributes to uneven availability of programs and services across the state. By identifying and comparing indicators of risk and reach of services to support children and families at the county level, the report highlights regions of greatest need and opportunities for collaboration and integration of services across departments and geographic areas.

About our process

Identifying risk, reach, and resilience

  1. Every county is assigned to one of four risk categories for each risk measure (low, low-to-moderate, moderate-to-high, or high), and is given a composite risk score based on an average of the 12 risk measures.

  2. Every county also is assigned a reach category (low, low-to-moderate, moderate-to-high, high) for each program based on the proportion of eligible children receiving that service. 

  3. The reach of services is overlaid on a map of Minnesota showing each county's composite risk score, allowing comparison of the potential need for services with their coverage. Learn more about our methodology.

Risk measures

Economic risks

In 2016, almost 11% of all births were to mothers with less than a high school degree, up from nearly 8% in 2012.
11 %

More than 5% of children under the age of six have no parent in the labor force, ranging from nearly 15% in Hubbard County to under 2% in Carver County.
5 %

About 16% of children live in poverty in Minnesota (about $20,000 per year for a family of three, and about $24,000 for a family of four).
16 %

Reach measures

Overall, the Family Home Visiting Program reaches 13 percent of the targeted families with children under age 6. Home visiting has been shown to be effective in helping families improve health status; achieve economic self-sufficiency; improve positive parenting; reduce child maltreatment; achieve goals such as child spacing, education, and employment; and establish links to community resources. The Family Home Visiting Program works with families at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines who are experiencing a variety of risk factors, including poverty, history of alcohol or other drug use, history of violence or at risk for child abuse and neglect, or adolescent parents.

Statewide, about 28 percent of eligible children under age 6 living in poverty are served by Head Start and Early Head Start comprehensive child development, health, and social service programs for families with poverty-level incomes, children with special needs, or children with negative family circumstances such as homelessness. Early Head Start offers home-based services beginning prenatally to nurture child development and parenting skills. Options include home visits and full-day, half-day, therapeutic, and inclusion center-based classrooms.

Statewide, nearly half of children under age 6 in low-income families are covered by the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), the state's version of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. It supports low-income families with children and aims to help those families move toward financial stability through work. Parents are supported through cash and food assistance, as well as employment services. MFIP is calculated as the percentage of all children under age 6 in families with incomes at or below 125 percent of the poverty level.

In 2016, statewide, 49 per 1,000 children under age 6 enrolled in Minnesota Health Care Programs (MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance) were assessed and treated for mental health issues, up from 40 in 2013. Early mental health intervention enhances child development by reducing risk factors and increasing protective influences, when possible. Assessment and mental health intervention are focused on primary caregiving relationship(s). Science suggests that intervention in the very early stages of development both capitalizes on normative developmental processes and is cost effective.

    School Readiness is a public school early childhood education program open to children from age 3 to enrollment in kindergarten. The goal of the program is to help preschoolers gain skills and behaviors for school success. The program is free for children with one of six risk factors, such as qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, being an English language learner, or having a potential risk factor that may influence learning. Statewide, about 14 or 15 percent of children age 3 and 4 are served by the School Readiness Program. The highest coverage is in Red Lake (82%) and Cook (73%) counties.

    An estimated 15 to 17 percent of Minnesota children under age 6 have developmental disabilities. 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. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that early intervention, special education, and related services are provided to children with disabilities. Lack of early screening and detection and eligibility requirements to receive the services may limit participation.

    Early intervention services and supports are available in "natural environments" for families and their children age 2 and younger with developmental delays or with certain diagnosed physical or mental disabilities, conditions, or disorders. These include children with low birth weight and children with hearing or vision impairment. Children with developmental delays or other disabilities who are experiencing challenges in their learning and development from age 3 until they begin kindergarten can receive special education services in their home, child care setting, or school, whichever is the least restrictive environment. The data presented here are limited to pre-kindergarten children and reflect county location of the programs' district office rather than child's residence.

    School districts and charter schools apply to the Minnesota Department of Education to offer Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten, which uses instruction and curriculum aligned with Minnesota's early learning standards to prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten. Statewide, about 5 percent of 4-year-olds are served by the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program.

      Fifty-nine percent of Minnesota's eligible children under age 6 are served by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), down from 70 percent in 2013. WIC is a federal program that provides low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, and infants and children up to age 5 with nutrient-rich foods, health care and social service referrals, and nutrition counseling and education. Eligible families have incomes at or below 185 percent of federal poverty levels or are Medicaid eligible.

      Related resources

      Minnesota Risk, Reach, and Resilience 2018 report list of references:

      Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation
      Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota
      This groundbreaking study began in 1975 and is currently in its 36th year. The study looks at how people develop at different points in their lives and across diverse setting (e.g., school, home, social relationships) to understand factors that guide individual development toward good outcomes or poor outcomes. The current focus is on social relationship experiences.

      Prenatal to Age 3 - A Comprehensive, Racially-Equitable Policy Plan for Universal Healthy Child Development
      Wilder Research, September 2016, 16 pp.
      Presents a policy plan that offers a fresh approach to early childhood policies that addresses the roots of racial equity. It is based on scientific literature, applied research, and analysis of population and economic trends and is informed by advice from more than 400 community members and early childhood stakeholders.

      Championing Early Childhood Policies that Prevent Social, Economic, and Educational Inequities
      Wilder Research, May 2015, 8 pp.
      In response to the 2015 Minnesota legislative debate focused on increasing access to early education, this brief proposes a new policy approach that would prevent opportunity and achievement gaps and social, economic, and educational inequities. 

      How prevalent are family risk factors among Minnesota children who receive Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare?
      Minnesota Department of Human Services, April 2015, 32 pages
      More than 420,000 children (one-third of all the children in Minnesota) are enrolled in Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare. The study looked at nearly 400,000 of these children who were living with a parent, many of whom were also enrolled in DHS safety net programs.

      School Readiness Report Card
      Wilder Research, October 2013, 44 pp.
      The 2010 Minnesota Legislature directed Minnesota's Early Childhood Advisory Council to make recommendations on the creation and implementation of a statewide School Readiness Report Card to monitor the state's progress toward the goal of having all children ready for kindergarten by the year 2020. Reports describe the process used to develop report card indicators and measure progress toward the goal.   

      Adverse Childhood Experiences in Minnesota: Findings & Recommendations based on the 2011 Minnesota Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
      Minnesota Department of Health, January 2013, 39 pp.
      This report marks the first time that the Minnesota Department of Health has collected data regarding the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on the lifelong health and well-being of adults in Minnesota. For two decades, research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other states has demonstrated over and over again the powerful impact of ACEs on health, behavioral, and social problems. An extensive and growing body of research documents that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)--those causing toxic levels of stress or trauma before age 18--are specifically linked to poor physical and mental health, chronic disease, lower educational achievement, lower economic success, and impaired social success in adulthood. 

      Risk Indicators

      The 12 risk indicators measure several dimensions of the potential risk to the well-being and quality of life for young children. The selected economic, family stability, and health indicators were chosen in consultation with the advisory committee.

      Each risk indicator is presented as a standardized measure to allow county-by-county comparisons. For example, counties are not compared on the number of children living in poverty; instead they are compared based on the rate of poverty among children. Level of risk is based on a comparison of counties within Minnesota only. For every indicator, each county was assigned to one of four risk categories, based on comparisons to the statewide average. These comparisons were based on z-scores, which represent the number of standard deviations that an individual county-level indicator falls above or below the statewide average. Risk category assignments were made as follows:

      • Low risk: z-score of less than -1: (more than 1 standard deviation below the mean)
      • Low to moderate risk: z-score of -1 or more and less than 0 (less than 1 standard deviation below the mean)
      • Moderate to high risk: z-score of 0 to less than 1 (less than 1 standard deviation above the mean)
      • High risk: z-score of 1 or higher (more than 1 standard deviation above the mean)

      Composite risk

      There is also a composite or overall risk score for each county, which combines information on all of the risk indicators. (Three counties lacking data on four or more risk indicators are excluded). The composite sums the z-scores for each county across all individual risk indicators, calculates the average and standard deviation, and then assigns each county a new z-score based on this composite. Based on this composite score, counties were assigned to one of the four overall risk categories. Counties averaging at least one standard deviation above the mean on all indicators were assigned to the high risk category, and those averaging at least one standard deviation below the statewide average were assigned to the low risk category.

      Reach indicators

      Data for the reach indicators come from the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health, and Human Services. Specific notes on each indicator, including the benefits and eligibility of each program, and the details of how the extent of each reach indicator was calculated, are included in their respective sections. Similar to the risk indicators, each county was assigned to one of four reach categories, based on comparisons to the statewide average for every reach indicator.


      Risk and reach indicators are limited to data available at the county level. The lack of an integrated statewide data system and standards for data collection and reporting limits the reporting to individual risk and program indicators and our ability to assess cumulative risk and the comprehensiveness of service reach. Calculating the number of children eligible to receive services (the denominators in the reach equations) is challenging because program eligibility requirements vary and are usually based on different levels of household income as well as other factors of need and circumstances, and county populations and income levels are based on multi-year samples. The results, while inexact, are still useful for comparisons across counties. The data provided by the state agencies are not always inclusive of all services or all populations served. For example, the Minnesota Family Investment Program does not include extended cases with caregivers with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and chemical health issues; the screening data are limited to education services and do not include developmental screening by health care providers. Tribal data, moreover, are not always included within state agency data. Finally, data are not routinely collected or available at the county level regarding potential protective factors for children, such as the extent to which they have secure attachment and nurturing relationships within their families.

      Sponsors and advisors

      The Minnesota Early Childhood Risk, Reach, and Resilience Report was funded by a grant from the Irving Harris Foundation to the University of Minnesota and inspired by the Louisiana Early Childhood Report.


      • Bobbie Burnham, Minnesota Department of Education
      • Jeanne Dickhausen, Minnesota Department of Education
      • Jim Koppel, Minnesota Department of Human Services
      • Alexandra Mentes, Minnesota Department of Human Services
      • Anita Larson, Minnesota Department of Education
      • Justine Nelson, Minnesota Department of Human Services
      • Janet Olstad, Minnesota Department of Health
      • Lorna Schmidt, Public Health
      • Megan Waltz, Minnesota Department of Health
      • Rochelle Westlund, Association of Minnesota Counties
      • Catherine Wright, Minnesota Department of Human Services

      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. Read the full report.