Mara Powell

2021 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book: A Look at Data Trends and Solutions to Advance Racial Equity in the Commonwealth

Featuring the latest county-level data for key measures of child well-being

Louisville, KY – Kentucky will be strongest when all children have their best chance to thrive. The 2021 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book examines data disaggregated by race/ethnicity, the impacts of systemic racial injustice on children and families, and solutions to advance racial equity so that every child can thrive. The 31st edition of this publication also features the latest data on 17 measures of child well-being, showing whether outcomes for children across the Commonwealth have improved, worsened, or stayed the same over a five-year period. While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many families in ways that do not yet show up in the data, the book identifies pre-existing challenges and areas of needed improvement.

Detailed data are available for every Kentucky county at

“This time last year, we wrote about the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice. While it’s easy to feel like we’re treading water on both fronts, the reality is that we must continue to learn, to dialogue with each other, and build the bridges that will carry us towards the vision of making Kentucky the best place to be young. We know that the impacts of discriminatory practices, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, will take sustained and focused efforts to overcome. So, in this year’s book we are diving into data by race for each key arena of child well-being to help inform the newly created Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity and identify some clear policies that would lead to more equitable outcomes for children across the Commonwealth,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The County Data Book’s opening essay is a call to action to work together to advance race equity for Kentucky kids. Subsequent sections on Economic Security, Health, Education, and Family and Community reveal numerous racial disparities and the longstanding systemic barriers that contributed to them, while highlighting local, state, and federal policy and practice solutions to address these disparities. Data highlights and solutions to advance racial equity for Kentucky kids include:

  • Though child poverty rates have improved, rates remain much higher for Black (32 percent) and Latinx (30 percent) children and children of two or more races (33 percent) compared to White children (19 percent). Permanently expanding the federal Child Tax Credit, making child care more
    accessible to working families, and protecting funding for current safety net programs would improve families’ financial stability, ensure children’s basic needs are met, and close the racial gaps in poverty rates.
  • While no evidence shows out-of-school suspensions work to improve student behavior, schools continue to use them – and at a high rate for Black students, who are suspended more often as early as Kindergarten. Disparities grow during middle school and high school. For example, in middle school, Black students experience out-of-school suspensions at a rate of 47.8 per 100 students compared to a rate of 10.9 for White students. Utilizing alternative responses to student behavior that do not exclude children from the classroom, such as mental health supports and restorative justice practices, would reduce the disproportionate impact on Black student learning and keep youth connected to school.
  • Babies born to Black mothers experience the highest rates of low birthweight, though variations for each race by community size calls for a deeper look at local factors. For example, in rural areas, Black mothers experience a rate of 16.6 low-weight births per 100 births compared to a rate of 8.7 for White mothers and 6.4 for Latinx mothers. Strengthening access to quality health coverage before, during, and after pregnancy and closing gaps in use of programs like the HANDS home visiting program would reduce disparities in critical birth outcomes for Black babies and mothers.
  • In Kentucky counties of all sizes, Black parents are incarcerated at substantially higher rates than parents of other races, with the greatest disparity in suburban counties, where 16.1 Black parents are in state custody per 1,000 adults, compared to 2.8 per 1,000 adults for White parents. Utilizing community-based sentencing alternatives that promote both rehabilitation and accountability would allow parents who committed nonviolent offenses to stay connected to their children, minimizing the trauma for children of having a parent incarcerated and the disproportionate impacts on Black youth.

“We at Kentucky Youth Advocates believe that when we measure outcomes for kids, we can change outcomes for kids. Achieving equity for Kentucky children means acknowledging that there are major barriers to opportunity based on zip code, income level, and, particularly, skin color that have created an unfair playing field. It means working together to identify and remove those barriers, build on community resilience, and boost up those most left behind. There is no doubt that we should prioritize the needs of children growing up in both urban and rural Kentucky, and the reality is that all children will benefit from policies that seek to remove those underlying barriers,” said Brooks.

For over 30 years, the County Data Book has allowed readers and leaders to investigate areas in which Kentucky and its counties are making progress and areas needing focused attention for improvement. The publication highlights data in four domains of child well-being: economic security, education, health, and family and community. Overall child well-being data highlights from the 2021 County Data Book include:

  • Nearly half of Kentucky renters (45 percent) experience high rental cost burden, in which households spend 30 percent or more of income on rent and utilities – an issue that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. In the Commonwealth’s 120 counties, 37 counties are not improving or are getting worse on this indicator that impacts family stability.
  • Kentucky students have high rates of graduating on time from high school (90 percent), though students are not equally well prepared for the future. Eighty-seven of Kentucky’s 167 school districts with high schools got worse on this indicator from the 2015-16 to the 2020-21 school year. Kentucky’s economy depends on the youth of today being prepared for the workforce needs of the future, yet only 46 percent of 2019 high school graduates were deemed academically ready for college.
  • Kentucky continues to see high numbers of children with health insurance with 95.7 percent covered in 2019, though coverage lags for Latinx children (91 percent) compared to Black (97 percent) and White (96 percent) children. While 100 of 120 counties have improved rates in children having health coverage, we must work to cover the remaining gap so that all children have access to needed health care.
  • Children of all races most often leave foster care to be reunified with parents or guardians, yet Latinx (14 percent) and Black (17 percent) youth are more likely than White youth (11 percent) to age out of care without a permanent connection to family. Overall, the percent of children who are reunited with their parent or primary caretaker when they exit foster care continues to be lower than five years ago, with the most recent data showing only 37 percent of kids achieving reunification.
  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and many students missing state testing, comprehensive data is unavailable for the most recent school year for kindergarten readiness, fourth grade reading, and eighth grade math scores. Replacing those education data points are the proportion of public school students experiencing homelessness (3 percent), students with an Individualized Education Plan due to a disability (16 percent), and an out-of-school suspension rate (9.6 suspensions for every 100 students enrolled).

“All kids face a long climb in their journey to adulthood, but kids of color have to climb a steeper hill due to longstanding inequities and specific barriers based on their skin color or country of origin. When we invest in what all children need and tailor additional supports for children who face greater barriers, each Kentucky kid will have a brighter future. The County Data Book offers suggested policy and practice changes that advocates and decisionmakers can take to move us from simply reading data on a page to truly transforming the future trajectory for each Kentucky kid, especially kids of color,” said Brooks.

Read the 2021 County Data Book and access county data profiles and the data dashboard featuring state data from the report disaggregated by race/ethnicity at

The 2021 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book was made possible with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a number of KIDS COUNT sponsors, including Passport Health Plan by Molina Healthcare, Kosair Charities®, and Charter Communications. Any findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Annie E. Casey Foundation or other supporters.


Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at