Andrea Bennett

JEFFERSONTOWN, KY – The Kentucky KIDS COUNT 2016 County Data Book provides a snapshot of children by county, including county-level rankings of child well-being based on 16 different indicators.

The counties with the highest rankings on child well-being include (in order) Oldham, Boone, Spencer, Woodford, and Ballard Counties.

Detailed data are available for every county in Kentucky. Please click here for your county’s profile.

This year’s book goes a step further and examines how children fare based on where they live, how much their family earns, and the color of their skin. It highlights solutions for how we can help all children succeed during childhood and as adults.

“We as a state have come a long way in providing children what they need to be successful, like ensuring kids have health insurance and changing the way we respond to youth who get in trouble,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “We need to continue to implement policies and practices that help all children, and in order to do that, we must face some uncomfortable truths. One of those truths is that the zip code in which children live, the amount of money their family earns, and the color of their skin are pervasive and powerful influences on the childhood they will have and the future they can embrace.”

The book includes information and data on four areas of child well-being, including economic security, education, health, and family and community. The indicators highlighted in each of the areas show that in order to help all children succeed in Kentucky, policy and practice changes are needed.

The new report also offers several ways forward—solutions that policymakers and local communities can act upon to create pathways to opportunity for all families and children, especially those who have historically been blocked from reaching their full potential.

Financial stability is one area of great need. Growing up in a financially stable home impacts almost every other aspect of a child’s life. In the past, Kentucky has been successful in reducing its high rate of childhood poverty, as the state’s rate consistently fell between 1995 and 2000. However, more than one in four (26 percent) Kentucky children currently live in poverty. Poverty impacts children in all Kentucky counties, even those that are ranked highest on child well-being. For example, Oldham and Boone, the top two ranked counties for child well-being in the state, are both home to thousands of children living in poverty, 8 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Dr. Kathy Cooter spends time in Kentucky kindergarten and preschool classrooms in her role as a Bellarmine University professor preparing new teachers. She has observed as children tell their teachers about the realities of living in poverty—that their parents just got out of rehab or that they didn’t eat dinner last night. “These little kids did not choose their circumstances; we cannot, as caring adults, allow them to suffer the lifelong consequences of poverty without action,” said Dr. Cooter.

Although poverty is pervasive across Kentucky, certain groups of children have a higher chance of living in poverty, including young children, children in Eastern Kentucky, and Black and Hispanic children. There are several reasons why these groups face additional challenges in financial stability such as the high cost of child care for families with young children, job losses due to declining industries, and historical discrimination that prevented Black and Hispanic families from building wealth and assets.

Bill Stewart, a retired social worker who grew up in Knox County—ranked 113th in child well-being—believes that children who live where he grew up deserve better. “Things are no better, or even worse, for lots of our children than when I was a child. With nearly half of children in Knox County living in poverty, we, as Kentuckians, must do better by them,” he stated.

Solutions exist to help all children, including those who face a greater risk of living in poverty. Enhancing income and earning potential, building assets, and rewarding personal responsibility through work supports will strengthen the financial stability of families. For example, paid family leave allows parents to care for themselves and their children when they have a new child or fall ill. And limiting jail for parents who have committed minor offenses and do not pose a risk to public safety can allow them to keep their jobs to support their families.

Marita Willis, civic leader and native Louisvillian who grew up in the Park Hill neighborhood believes now is the time for leaders to address systemic issues to make Kentucky better for all children. “For every year of inaction to fix these inequities, for every year of complacency to maintain the status quo, we see the inequities and accompanying challenges grow. They grow in the form of poor health, overcrowded prisons, a bifurcated community, and shortened lives,” she said.

“For kids in Kentucky, there are reasons why place, income, and race matter. Those reasons have been imbedded in us for years, and it is going to take time to change policies and attitudes to give every child a chance to thrive. We must learn, grow, and move forward together. It’s going to take all of us. KIDS COUNT brings us the facts. Let’s face the facts and grow together to make Kentucky the best place in America to be young for all children. Our kids deserve no less,” added Brooks.

The 2016 County Data Book was made possible with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the 2016 KIDS COUNT sponsors Passport Health Plan, Delta Dental of Kentucky, and Kosair Charities.