Jeffersontown, KY - The 2014 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates provides a picture of the status of children in Kentucky counties based on 16 indicators of child well-being. State and local leaders can use the book to help evaluate what is going well for kids and where improvements need to be made. This is the 24th annual release of the Kentucky County Data Book, which represents a county-level counterpart to the 2014 national KIDS COUNT Data Book that was released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in July.
This year's County Data Book ranks all 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. It is important to note that the indicators included in the 2014 rankings are different than those included in the 2013 County Data Book. Therefore, current rankings should not be compared to last year's county rankings.
The counties with the highest overall child well-being rankings include (in order) Oldham, Boone, Spencer, Woodford, and Calloway counties. Martin, Owsley, Wolfe, Clay, and Elliott counties have the most room for improvement, scoring at the bottom on overall child well-being.
The opening essay discusses the vast number of Kentucky children that experience one or more adverse childhood experiences (known as ACEs) while growing up and offers recommendations to prevent and help kids recover from these experiences so they can thrive as adults. ACEs are events and circumstances during childhood that have the capacity to change the course of a child's development even into adulthood, damaging health and shortening lifespans. These adverse experiences include all types of child abuse and neglect; economic hardship; separation or divorce; witnessing domestic violence in the home or neighborhood violence; living in a household where mental illness or substance abuse are present or where a former household member is incarcerated; and being treated unfairly due to race or ethnicity. In Kentucky, 1 in 5 children birth to age 5 experience two or more ACEs compared to 1 in 8 children nationally.
"We know when children experience traumatic events such as abuse and neglect or having an incarcerated parent, it negatively impacts their health and often causes barriers to success later in life. Kentucky leaders need to enact solutions to prevent these experiences in the first place and when they do happen, help children successfully recover," said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director at Kentucky Youth Advocates.
The essay offers recommendations to prevent adverse childhood experiences such as implementing sexual abuse prevention training in all public schools.
"Experiencing child abuse can have a lasting negative impact on a child. That's why Kosair Charities is committed to addressing child abuse in our community," said Randy Coe, president of Kosair Charities. "We can all help end child abuse, and schools have an important role in teaching staff to recognize and report abuse. They can also teach children to understand appropriate interactions with others."
Other recommendations highlight the need to provide concrete support to families trying to make ends meet. These include expanding child care supports for working families, streamlining enrollment and access to supports that help families, such as food stamps, and enacting a state Earned Income Tax Credit.
The book includes county level data on all 16 data points included in the rankings. Highlights from a few data points include the following:
Research shows that children who start formal education with stronger cognitive, behavioral, and emotional skills tend to maintain that advantage throughout their elementary school years, compared to children whose skills are less advanced. During the 2013-2014 school year, 51 percent of incoming Kentucky kindergartners were not adequately prepared for school. In 85 of the state's 120 counties, at least half were not ready for school. The 2014 County Data Book offers several recommendations to help increase kindergarten readiness such as expanding access to high-quality preschool to more children and using state funds to offer preschool at high-quality child care centers.
"Preparing children for kindergarten is a vital issue. One of the most promising efforts underway are the many efforts around which our public schools are leading collaborative pre-school programming with community child care centers. That is an idea that needs to grow as we deepen our connection between public schools and early childhood providers." said Roger Marcum, chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education.
Smoking During Pregnancy
A healthy start in life begins during pregnancy; but for too many children in Kentucky, maternal smoking diminishes that good start. Smoking during pregnancy contributes to low-birthweight and preterm births. In 2010-2012, 22.6 percent of Kentucky mothers smoked during pregnancy, the highest rate among states with comparable data. County rates varied widely; less than 14 percent of expectant mothers in Fayette, Jefferson, and Oldham counties smoked, compared to 40 percent or more of mothers in Clay, Elliot, Lee, and Owsley counties.
"All parents want what is best for their children, and we know that smoke is bad for kids," said Dr. Bethany Hodge, a pediatrician in Louisville. "Kentucky needs an indoor smoke-free law so working mothers-to-be do not have to choose between their jobs and protecting their unborn babies."
During 2008-2012, 1 in 8 Kentuckians under age 26 lacked health insurance. This timeframe spans the September 2010 implementation of the federal provision that allows young people to stay on a parent's private health insurance plan until age 26. The law also now allows youth who have aged out of foster care to stay enrolled in Medicaid until age 26. There will likely be a decline in the uninsured rate in years to come due to Kentucky's successful launch of the health benefit exchange, kynect.
"Kentucky has effectively connected young people to health insurance, especially with the outreach efforts of KCHIP over the past few years and kynect over the past year," said Brooks. "It's important to build on those successes with innovative ways to connect all young people to coverage. One solution is to automatically enroll youth aging out of foster care in Medicaid to make sure they maintain health insurance as they leave the state's care."
"We saw much success from state leaders to help kids and families during the 2014 legislative session. We hope this book is a tool for state and local leaders to build on that success and continue to implement solutions that keep kids safe, healthy, and secure," added Brooks.
The 2014 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book was produced in part by Signature Sponsor Passport Health Plan and Diamond Sponsors Kosair Charities and Delta Dental of Kentucky. View a complete copy of the 2014 County Data Book at http://kyyouth.org/kentucky-kids-count/. The data from this year's book, 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. County level profiles for all 120 counties are also available by clicking here.