As Kentucky Youth Advocates celebrates its 40th birthday, we’re looking back at our history and how it has shaped the organization we are today. A big part of KYA’s history is the KIDS COUNT project, begun in 1989 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to strengthen public action on behalf of children and families and promote public accountability for their outcomes.

When the Casey Foundation released the first edition of the national KIDS COUNT Data Book in January 1990, there were few places child advocates, or even policymakers, could turn to for accessible data on how children were faring across the states. Not only did the Casey Foundation pull together key indicators on child well-being across domains (instead of just focusing on one area, such as education), but they used data that could be compared across states, and created rankings that enabled readers to see which states and regions were leading the pack or leaving children behind.

In that first edition, Kentucky ranked 39th out of the 50 states and District of Columbia. The 1990 Data Book told us that 23.6 percent of Kentucky children were living in poverty and 6.8 percent of babies were born at a low birth weight. Fast forward 28 years to the latest edition released last month: Kentucky ranks 34th among states (though the ranking isn’t comparable due to changes in how it is calculated), 26 percent of Kentucky children are living in poverty, and 8.7 percent of babies are born at a low birth weight. Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do.

The first national KIDS COUNT Data Book in 1990 and the 2017 edition.

By 1991 the Casey Foundation began piecing together a network of state-based child advocates charged with replicating its data collection and dissemination work for the communities within their respective state. KYA takes pride in being a part of that first group of eight states and will be releasing our 27th annual County Data Book later this year. Today, the KIDS COUNT network occupies all 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The KIDS COUNT network in 1991 and in 2017.

Along the way, the amount of data proliferated and improved technology made it easier to house all of that data online in an easy-to-use, interactive database. But the most important part of the journey is how that data has been used toward positive changes for children and youth. There are numerous examples across the nation of how KIDS COUNT data has shaped policy, practice, and funding decisions, but one life-or-death example is Kentucky’s graduated driver’s license law. When the national Data Book showed Kentucky teen deaths spiking in 2004, a deeper examination showed vehicle crashes as a major contributor. That data served as evidence of a need for graduated drivers licensing for Kentucky’s youngest drivers, and teen deaths did fall after a law was implemented in 2006.

To learn more about the evolution of the KIDS COUNT project read this publication from the Casey Foundation. Stay tuned for a post in November on the history, and future, of the Kentucky KIDS COUNT project.