New KIDS COUNT County Level Rankings on Child Well-Being Reveal Need for Smart Investments in KY Kids

2013_KYKidsCount_FINAL_12-10-13 1Contact:
Andrea Bennett
abennett@kyyouth.org
502-381-1178

Jeffersontown, KY – The 2013 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book, released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates highlights the need for smart investments to ensure kids in all counties have the best opportunity to thrive in childhood and succeed as adults.

This is the 23nd annual release of the Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book, part of the Kentucky KIDS COUNT project. The KIDS COUNT project monitors progress for Kentucky’s one million children on over 100 indicators of child well-being. This year’s book introduces a new approach, ranking Kentucky counties on overall child well-being and on four domains critical to that well-being: economic security, education, health, and family and community strength. Each domain includes four indicators of well-being, for a total of 16 indicators.

The index used in the 2013 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book is modeled on one created by the National KIDS COUNT project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The 16 indicators use data available for each Kentucky county, and therefore, differ somewhat from those used by the National KIDS COUNT project.

The index reveals that the seven counties with the highest overall child well-being rankings (Boone, Calloway, Meade, Oldham, Spencer, Washington, and Woodford) scored noticeably higher than other counties.  Owsley, Knox, Elliot, Martin, Fulton, and Clay Counties have the most room for improvement as they scored at the bottom on overall child well-being.

An opening essay highlights the need for stronger investments in Kentucky’s children. More than one in four children in Kentucky lived in poverty in 2012. The essay offers recommendations for smart investments to improve economic security among families such as a state earned income credit to help families keep more of their hard earned income, restoration of the Child Care Assistance Program to help parents pay for quality care while they work, and support for the growing number of relatives taking care of children.

“Investments that promote strong families will not only help children succeed as the workforce of our future but will also increase economic development in the present,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “It’s time to make children and families a priority in our state by investing in programs that keep parents working and promote economic security.”

Each domain–economic security, health, education, and family and community strength — identifies county rankings and solutions to improve various indicators included in the index.

Low-Birthweight Babies and Smoking During Pregnancy

Two indicators in the health domain to be noted are low-birthweight babies and smoking during pregnancy. Some 8.9 percent of babies in Kentucky were born at a low-birthweight from 2009-2011. LaRue County is the only county in the state with a low-birthweight percentage under 5 percent. More than 1 in 10 babies were born at a low-birthweight in 40 counties with Martin County having the highest percentage at 16.8 percent. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy is the single most important known cause of low-birthweight, which increases a newborn’s risk for serious health problems such as developmental and intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and vision and hearing loss. With almost one in four births (23 percent) to mothers who smoked during pregnancy in 2011, there is vast room for intervention in this arena.

“We know smoke-free policies will reduce smoking during pregnancy and reduce the number of babies born at a low-birthweight,” said Brooks. “It’s time to do what works and enact a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law. We need to protect all children, not just those lucky enough to be born in a smoke-free community.”

Youth Incarcerated in the Juvenile Justice System

A notable indicator in the family and community domain is the number of youth incarcerated in Kentucky’s Juvenile Justice system. In 2010-2012, Kentucky incarcerated 51.9 young people ages 10-17 for every 1,000 children that age. County incarceration rates varied widely, with 38 counties exceeding the state rate. The data show that most Kentucky youth are incarcerated for offenses that do not threaten public safety and could better be treated in the community than in a juvenile jail. Incarcerated youth face a greater probability of poor education, less employment, and poor mental health outcomes, and they are at increased risk of being incarcerated again.

“The opportunity exists to make significant changes in the Juvenile Justice System during the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly. The Unified Juvenile Code Task Force led by Senator Whitney Westerfield and Representative John Tilley is making progress, and we expect strong recommendations to result from their work. Significant reforms could put Kentucky youth on a better track for success, while also improving public safety and using tax dollars efficiently on what works,” added Brooks.

Preschool

All children need a quality education to build a strong foundation for their future. Preschool can provide a strong environment for early learning and preparing children for school, yet the majority (58 percent) of Kentucky’s 3- and 4-year olds miss out on preschool. “The first eight years are crucial to a child’s development,” said Brooks. “Expanded preschool and restoring Kentucky’s Child Care Assistance Program can ensure children are on the right track for success.”

“The 2013 County Data Book is a call to action for local, state and federal leaders. Budgets always require tough choices, but especially now, Kentucky cannot afford to fail to invest in kids,” added Brooks.

Click here to download the 2013 County Data Book. The 2013 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book was sponsored by Kosair Charities, Passport Health Plan, and the Kentucky Beverage Association. The data from this year’s book including the rankings, as well as new and historical data for the many other indicators Kentucky Youth Advocates tracks can be found at the KIDS COUNT Data Center at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/ky.

Please contact Andrea Bennett at abennett@kyyouth.org or 502-381-1176 with any questions or to schedule an interview.

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Kentucky Youth Advocates is a non-partisan, non-profit, children’s advocacy organization. KYA represents a voice for Kentucky’s most precious asset – its youth.  We believe that Kentucky’s youth deserve the opportunities and resources necessary to ensure their productive development and health.

Kentucky KIDS COUNT is part of a nationwide initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to build better futures for disadvantaged children. For more information on the KIDS COUNT initiative, visit www.aecf.org.