County ranks 113th on well-being list;economic security cited as a factor

Last updated: December 28. 2013 2:55AM - 801 Views
By Jeff Phillips Staff Writer

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Bell County’s kids did not fare as well as many across the state in the recently released 2013 Kentucky KIDS COUNT Data Book.

This was the 23rd annual release of the data by the Kentucky Youth Advocates.

Bell County ranked near the bottom — 113th out of 120 counties.

“Economic security has a vast impact on child well-being, and it heavily influences other factors such as health, education, and family and community strength. We know that when there are limited jobs in eastern Kentucky due to factors such as the decline in the coal industry, it can directly impact the economic security of families,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of the Kentucky Youth Advocates.

“We need to invest in programs and create policies that inspire job creation in eastern Kentucky such as incentive programs that encourage health care professionals to graduate and return to serve the Appalachian part of the state. The truth is, there are innovative solutions in Eastern Kentucky counties; we just have to create an environment where that creativity is the catalyst for change and inspires solutions that have never been tried before.”

Brooks said there are state level solutions that need to be implemented to ensure that kids in all counties, “no matter what family they are born into or what challenges they face, have the opportunity to succeed and grow into productive members of society. For example, restoring cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program will both keep child care businesses thriving in eastern Kentucky, but it will also ensure parents who are working have a quality child care provider for their kids.”

“Overall, Bell County ranks 113 on child well-being and each domain ranking — economic security, education, health, and family and community strength having similar rankings. When you look at the Bell County data, a boost in economic security will help move the indicators; however, there are some low-cost solutions that can vastly improve the well-being of Kentucky kids,” said Brooks.

Brooks said that in Bell County, some 37 percent of births from 2009-2011 were to mothers who smoked during pregnancy.

“Smoking during pregnancy is the single most major cause of low-birth-weight which has a major impact on health and education outcomes among children who were exposed to smoking during pregnancy,” he said. “We know that smoke-free ordinances reduce smoking during pregnancy and a statewide, comprehensive smoke-free law would ensure all kids experience protections from secondhand smoke in public places. This would ultimately reduce health care costs for smoking related diseases across the state.”

Some of the areas assessed included data for multiple years, while others were were for a single year.

The breakdown of data which led to the low ranking for Bell County includes:

  • Economic security: Children in poverty, 39.7 percent; teens not in school, 11.6 percent; parental unemployment, 9.1 percent; and high rental cost burden, 66 percent.
  • Education: Children not in preschool, 67.7 percent fourth graders not proficient in reading, 56.9 percent; eighth graders not proficient in math, 66.2 percent; and high school students not graduating on time, 11.3 percent.
  • Health: Smoking during pregnancy, 36.5 percent; low-birth weight babies, 10.4 percent; inpatient asthma hospitalizations per 1,000 ages 0-17, 108.5; teen births per 1,000 ages 15-19, 68.7.
  • Family and community: Births to mothers without a high school degree, 25.2 percent; children living in high-poverty areas, 97.2percent; children in out-of-home care per 1,000 ages 0-17, 18.7 and youth incarcerated in the juvenile justice system per 1,000 ages 10-17, 39.5.

The index used in the data book is modeled after one created by the National KIDS COUNT project sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

A heavy concentration of low performing counties were clustered in eastern Kentucky. Most eastern Kentucky counties fell within the bottom half.

Clay ranked at the bottom — 120th. Clay was followed by Fulton at 119, Martin at 118, Elliott at 117, Knox at 116, Owsley at 115, Wolfe at 114, Bell at 113, McCreary at 112, Bath at 111, Menifee at 110, Perry at 109, Jackson at 108 and Carroll at 107.

Rankings for other counties in the area included Leslie County at 62, Pike County at 77, Whitley County at 82 and Harlan County at 106.

The seven counties with the highest overall well-being were Oldham, Boone, Calloway, Spencer, Woodford, Washington, Meade, Oldham, Spencer, Washington and Woodford. Their scores were much higher than the state’s other counties.

The Kentucky Youth Advocates cited the need for stronger investments in Kentucky’s youth.

The report highlights that more than one in four children in Kentucky lived in poverty in 2012.

The report offered recommendations for smart investments to improve economic security among families such as a state earned income credit to help families keep more of their hard earned income, restoration of the Child Care Assistance Program to help parents pay for quality care while they work, and support for the growing number of relatives taking care of children.

“Investments that promote strong families will not only help children succeed as the workforce of our future, but will also increase economic development in the present,” said Brooks. “It is time to make children and families a top priority in our state by investing in programs that keep parents working and promote economic security.”

Brooks said, “The 2013 County Data Book is a call to action for local, state and federal leaders. Budgets always require tough choices, but especially now, Kentucky cannot afford to fail to invest in kids.”

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