This year’s 2022 Kentucky Kids Count County Data Book, which looks at the well-being of children in each county, focuses on the importance of putting forth meaningful policies to support Kentucky’s youth, with an emphasis on listening and acting on what young people say is important to them.
“We want to challenge our lawmakers to be reading and to listen to this data, listen to policy solutions and listen to young people,” Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said at a press conference. “We know those lawmakers listen to national groups that bring dark money into Kentucky. They certainly listen to people who contribute to political action committees. They listen to high paid lobbyists. We want to know if they have the bravery to listen to young people.”
Brooks notes in the Data Book that the partisan rhetoric will continue to abound as we head in to the gubernatorial election in 2023 and the presidential election of 2024, making it even more important for children’s advocates to “stand above the political fray.”
“We must ensure that this becomes a moment of affirmation rather than a turn to a radical ideology that dilutes the well-being of our children,” he said.
In an effort to allow youth in Kentucky to share their reality and to address what is important to them, KYA surveyed them to ask them what their hopes and concerns were. The survey found that their top four concerns were around issues that deal with safety at school, increased access to safe community spaces for youth to gather, increased youth mental health supports and a desire for adequately funded schools that offer meaningful pathways to opportunity.
The data book, released Nov. 16 by KYA and the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville, is part of the 32nd annual release of Kids Count, a national initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to track the status of children in the United States.
The County Data Book rates children’s overall well being through 16 indicators in four major domains: economic security, education, health and family and community. “While the Covid-19 pandemic has continued to impact many families in ways that do not yet show up in the data, the book identifies ongoing challenges and areas of needed improvement,” says a news release.
Statewide, 15.7%, or nearly one in six, of Kentucky’s babies were born to women who reported smoking during pregnancy in 2018-20, down from 19% in 2013-14. Seven counties had smoking during pregnancy rates of less than 10%: Warren (7.4%); Daviess (7.5%); Oldham (7.5%); Jefferson (8.5%); Hancock (8.6%); Shelby (9.3%) and Fayette (9.3%).
All 12 counties with rates of 30% or more were in Appalachian Kentucky: Harlan (30.8%); Breathitt (30.8%); Bell (31%); Elliott (31.1%); Jackson (31.6%); Lee (32%); Perry (33%); Leslie (34%); Wolfe (34.2%); Clay (34.9%); Owsley (35.3%); and Martin (38.4%).
Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of health problems for developing babies, including birth before full term, low birth weight, and birth defects of the mouth and lips. Smoking during and after pregnancy also increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of low-birthweight babies in Kentucky stayed the same between 2018-20 and 2013-15, at 8.7%, above the national percentage. A low-birthweight baby is defined as less than 5.5 pounds.
The March of Dimes says the national figure is about 8%, and babies born with low birthweight are more likely to have certain health conditions later in life, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual and developmental disabilities, metabolic syndrome and obesity .
Just over half of the state’s counties saw an increase in low-birthweight babies since 2013-15. The rates varied from a low of 5.9% in Oldham County to a high of 13.6% in Elliott County.
Kentucky continues to have fewer teens giving birth, with 24.5 per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2018-20, down from 26.3 in 2017-19. This rate has decreased steadily since 2009-11 when it was 45.9 per 1,000.
This rate varies greatly among counties, ranging from a low of 5.6 teen births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 to a high of 56.1 births in Floyd County.
Seven counties had higher teen-birth rates in 2018-20 than they did in 2017-19: Bourbon, 25.1 births per 1,000; Hickman, 38; LaRue, 36.8; Lyon, 28.7; Mason, 35.7; Morgan, 48.2; and Robertson, 52.6. Bourbon, Hickman, and LaRue counties also saw increases from 2012-14 to 2017-19.
The share of Kentuckians under 19 who were covered by some form of health insurance in 2020 remained the same as in 2015, at 95.7%, but 53 counties saw a decrease in these numbers since 2015.
Other key findings about Kentucky’s children in the report include:
• While child poverty rates improved in 116 out of 120 counties compared to five years ago, 19% of children statewide continue to live in poverty.
• Just 44% of kindergarteners entered school ready to learn last school year, which is underlined by declining rates in 124 of 170 school districts with available data. Only 46% of fourth graders scored proficient in reading – ranging from 12% in Bourbon County to 81% in Anderson County – and only 36% of eighth graders scored proficient in math, ranging from 9% in Jackson County to 77% in the Anchorage Independent School District in Louisville.
• Comparing 2014-2016 to 2019-2021, 88 counties showed an increase in the rates of children in foster care, reflecting a 31% increase in the rate statewide. Similarly, the percentage of children exiting foster care to reunification with their parents or caregivers declined, in which nine counties had a rate lower than 20% of children being reunited, while Lee County had the highest reunification rate at 63%.
• 8,010 youth were incarcerated in 2019-21, making the rate nearly half what it was in 2014-16 (13.7 per 1,000 compared to 26.4 per 1,000).
The report was made possible with support from the Casey foundation and other sponsors, including Aetna Better Health Kentucky, Kosair Charities and Charter Communications.
The Kids Count Data Center provides easy access to county and school district data for about 100 indicators and allows the user to rank states, counties and school districts; to create customized profiles of the data; to generate customized maps; and to embed maps and graphs in websites or blogs.
(By Melissa Patrick, Kentucky Health News)