Kids Count County Data Book looks at the well-being of state’s children, county by county, and has some ‘warning signs’

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The 2023 Kentucky Kids Count County Data Book, which looks at the well-being of children in each county, serves as a guidepost for how Kentucky’s children are doing. This year, it comes with some “warning signs.”

“This year’s Kids Count report, more than most, serves as a warning,” Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said at a Nov. 15 press conference to release the data book. “Candidly, it is not a house on fire, but it’s certainly not good news.”

To support his warning, Brooks noted that only 46% of the state’s kindergarteners are considered ready to learn, and that worsened in 105 of the state’s 169 school districts. Also, two-thirds of fourth graders do not read at the national proficiency level, and 66% of eighth graders can’t meet minimal math standards.

Further, the report shows more Kentucky children are in foster care and fewer of them are being reunited with their families in 2020-22, compared to 2015-17.

Brooks called the more than 200,000 Kentucky children living poverty a  “canary in the coal mine” because this number indicates where all of the other Kids Count data points are going.

He also pointed to a decline in health-insurance coverage for children as an area of great concern.
“Even areas where historically we’ve done better, there’s warning signs,” he said. “For instance, we still have a very high rate of kids who are covered for health insurance. That’s the good news. The bad news is, well over half the counties in Kentucky are showing a decline in that.”

The percentage of Kentuckians under 19 who were covered by some form of health insurance in 2021 dropped just a bit, to 96.1%, when compared to 2016 when that rate was 96.7%. And, 97 of the state’s 120 counties, or nearly 81% saw a drop in this coverage.

The data book was compiled by KYA and the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville as part of the 33rd annual release of Kids Count, a national initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to track the status of children in the United States.
Health indicators

The County Data Book rates children’s overall well being through 16 indicators in four major domains: economic security, education, family and community and health. The health indicators include smoking during pregnancy, low-birthweight babies, children under 19 with health insurance and teen births.

Statewide, the report saw improvements in the percent of Kentucky births born to women who smoke during pregnancy, to 14.2% in 2019-21, down from 18.1% in 2014-16.

Twelve Kentucky counties saw this number worsen: Ballard (17.9%), Bracken (30.1%), Calloway (14.2%), Crittenden (19.1%), Hickman (20.5%), Lawrence (27.6%), Livingston (21.3%), Lyon (21.4%), McCracken (14.4%), Trigg (19.6%), Trimble (26.6%) and Wolfe (34.8%).

Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of health problems for developing babies, including birth before full term, low birthweight, and birth defects of the mouth and lip. Smoking during and after pregnancy also increases the risk of sudden infant-death syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and

The percentage of low-birthweight babies in Kentucky stayed the same from 2014-16 to 2019-21, at 8.8%. The national average is about 8%.

A low-birthweight baby is defined as less than 5.5 pounds. The March of Dimes says babies born with low weight are more likely to have certain health conditions later in life, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual and developmental disabilities, metabolic syndrome and obesity.

Just over half of Kentucky’s counties saw an increase in low-birthweight babies from 2014-16 to 2019-21. On the low end, five counties had rates undetr 6%: Carlisle (5.2%), Casey (5.8%), Lyon (5.2%), Oldham (5.7%) and Todd (5.7%). On the high end, two had rates of 15.3%: Robertson and Union.

Fewer teenagers are giving birth in Kentucky. The state’s rate was 22.8 per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2019-21, down from 31.7 in 2014-16. This rate has decreased steadily since 2014-16 when that rate was 31.7 teen births per 1,000 females aged 15-19. The highest rate, 54.5, is in in Menifee County.

Twelve counties had higher teen-birth rates in 2019-21 than they did in 2014-16: Cumberland, 37.7 births per 1,000; Fleming, 34.7; Fulton, 33.7; Hickman, 37.5; Lee, 50.8; Logan, 32.4; Monroe, 41.2; Morgan, 43.1; Muhlenberg, 41.5;  Owen, 27.3; Robertson, 51.1 and Washington, 24.6.

The report was made possible with support from the Casey foundation and other sponsors, including Aetna Better Health Kentucky, Kosair for Kids, Charter Communications and Mountain Comprehensive Care Center.

The Kids Count Data Center provides easy access to county and school district data for about 100 indicators and allows the user to rank states, counties and school districts; to create customized profiles of the data; to generate customized maps; and to embed maps and graphs in websites or blogs. Click here to see your county’s profile.
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