2022 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book: A Look at Data Trends and Kentucky Kids’ Ideas for a Brighter Future in the Commonwealth
Featuring the latest county-level data for key measures of child well-being
Louisville, KY – For optimal well-being, children need thriving communities that support strong families, good health, protection from harm, economic security, and a high-quality education. The 2022 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book features the latest data on 16 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 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.
Detailed data are available for every Kentucky county at www.kyyouth.org/kentucky-kids-count/.
“Kentucky’s kids have withstood some hard knocks through the pandemic, as well as deadly tornadoes and flooding, yet they have shown their resilience. With the November 2022 elections behind us, the 2023 gubernatorial race will soon kick into high gear ahead of a highly contested primary this May. Our kids are depending on us to stand above the political fray. One first step is to ensure the voices of the young people in our lives are heard in communities to the statehouse,” said Terry Brooks, executive director, Kentucky Youth Advocates.
As we look ahead to the 2023 Governor’s race, Kentucky Youth Advocates invited young people from across the Commonwealth to share their hopes and concerns with us. The County Data Book’s opening essay and domain spreads feature their messages – the following themes emanated from the survey:
- Safety at school: Top of mind for many students is the need to feel safe at school – whether that’s being prepared to act quickly and effectively in the case of a school shooting or taking measures to improve the school climate. A recurring theme from young people was feeling threatened by too many guns in their community, as the data show that firearm deaths among Kentucky children increased by 83% between 2013-2015 to 2018-2020.
- Safe and connected community spaces: Many young people – both rural and urban – expressed a desire to improve the physical environments they live in and for spaces for them to be active or simply hang out with friends. “I would love to see more walkable neighborhoods and outdoor activities that would draw kids outside and to allow them to interact with their communities” said Clara, age 19, from Jefferson County.
- More support for mental health and connections to caring adults: When asked what state leaders should prioritize, many young people talked about the need to support their mental health and the importance of having good friends and connections to caring, trusted adults in their lives. In 2020, 15.9% of Kentucky children and teens struggled with anxiety or depression.
- Education as a pathway to opportunity: When asked what state leaders should care most about, young people overwhelmingly identified education as a top priority. “Whether this is through college or trade school or a good job, state leaders should make sure schools are educating kids in order to prepare them for the future,” said a 13-year-old student from Hancock County.
“Fourteen-year-old Sadie from Daviess County said it best: ‘Our words still matter, even if we are young.’ Decisions made in Frankfort have a massive impact on opportunities for kids and we must engage them in helping to set those priorities,” asserted Brooks.
For 32 years, the 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 in Kentucky: economic security, education, health, and family and community. Several child well-being data highlights from the 2022 County Data Book include:
- While child poverty rates improved in 116 out of 120 counties compared to five years ago, 19% of children overall continue to live in poverty. Young children are more likely to experience poverty, especially young children of color due to historic and ongoing barriers to opportunities. With over one in four Kentucky kids under the age of five, it is important to make sure all children get a strong start.
- Just 44% of kindergarteners entered school ready to learn last school year, which is underscored by declining rates in 124 of 170 school districts with available data. Additionally, fewer than half (46%) of fourth graders scored proficient in reading – ranging from 12% of fourth graders in Bourbon County to 81% in Anderson County – and only 36% of eighth graders scored proficient in math – ranging from 9% of eighth graders in Jackson County to 77% in Anchorage Independent in Louisville.
- Rates of smoking during pregnancy continue to decline with 103 counties out of 120 showing progress, yet nearly 1 in 6 (15.7%) births are to mothers who reported smoking during pregnancy. Additionally, while the percentage of children under 19 with health insurance remains the same (95.7%), 79 counties had a lower percentage of children covered than the state average.
- Comparing 2014-2016 to 2019-2021, 88 counties showed an increase in the rates of children in foster care, highlighting 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, which is nearly half the rate seen in 2014-16 (13.7 per 1,000 compared to 26.4 per 1,000). Perceptions that youth of color are older than their actual age, or are more culpable, contribute to young Black children having complaints filed against them at a higher rate compared to their White peers. Young children who get in trouble need responses and interventions that address the root causes of their behavior rather than being stuck in the traumatic juvenile justice system.
“As partisan rhetoric heats up leading into the 2023 legislative session and election season, young people are counting on elected officials and candidates to listen to their needs and dreams so we can all play a part in making Kentucky the best place in America to be young. In the words of 15-year-old Alexis from Breckenridge County, ‘Helping kids is often easier than it seems,’” said Brooks.
Access the 2022 County Data Book, county data profiles, and the data dashboard featuring state data from the report disaggregated by race/ethnicity at www.kyyouth.org/kentucky-kids-count/.
The 2022 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book was made possible with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and KIDS COUNT sponsors, including Aetna® Better Health of Kentucky, 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 www.kyyouth.org.
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