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Much work to do for state’s children


What is life like for the children of Kentucky?

An annual report released this week aims to answer that question and indicates there is still much work to do to improve the lives of Kentucky’s children.

The 2019 KIDS COUNT report was released last week and provides information on the overall well-being of children in each county, through 17 measures in four areas: economic security, education, community strengths, and health and family.

The full report can be found at tinyurl.com/qpjpzu7.

Some of the positive trends revealed in the report include:

— There was a decrease from 26.5 percent in 2012 to 22.1 percent in 2017 of the number of children living in poverty (below 100 percent of the federal poverty level). Still, 219,000 children in Kentucky live in poverty.

— The number of children living in food insecure households also decreased from 21.7 percent in 2013 to 18.4 percent in 2017.

— There was a slight increase from 49 percent in 2013-14 to 51.1 percent in 2018-19 in the number of kindergartners deemed “ready to learn.”

— The number of high school students graduating on time improved from 87.5 percent in 2013-14 to 90.6 percent in 2018-19.

— There was a reduction in the number of women smoking during pregnancy from 20.7 percent in 2010-12 to 18.7 percent in 2015-17, however that remains much higher than the national average of about 7 percent.

— The number of children younger than 19 with health insurance increased from 94 percent in 2012 to 96.3 percent in 2017. All 120 counties in the Commonwealth showed improvement in this area.

— There was a significant reduction in the number of teen pregnancies from 42.9 per 1,000 females age 15 to 19 in 2010-12 to 29.7 per 1,000 in 2015-17.

— The number of births to mothers without a high school diploma reduced from 17.5 percent in 2010-12 to 14 percent in 2015-17.

— The rate of youth ages 10-17 incarcerated declined from 45.1 in 2011-13 to 26.6 in 2016-18.

Some of the negative trends in Kentucky include:

— There was a slight decrease from 54 percent in 2013-14 to 53 percent in 2018-19 in the number of fourth-grade children proficient in reading.

— The number of children in foster care continues to rise, from 35.3 per 1,000 age newborn to 17 in 2011-13 to 47.3 in 2016-18.

— The number of children exiting foster and being reunited with their families has also decreased from 41 percent in 2011-13 to 36 percent in 2016-18.

While we can celebrate our victories, knowing and understanding our shortcomings is of greater importance.

The annual report contains a lot of information, some of it positive, some of it negative and all of it indicates there is still much work to be done to improve the lives of Kentucky’s young people.

Even those trends that have positive outcomes in the last few years prove there is room for improvement — trends like the state’s high rate of smoking during pregnancy, that still about 10 percent of high school students do not graduate, still about 4 percent of children do not have health insurance, still about 3 percent of our youth are incarcerated and still many teenage girls find themselves pregnant each year in Kentucky.

Of course, areas of great concern are the number of children who are living in foster care and how few of them are returned to their families when they exit the system.

There is also still much concern about the number of young people who are living in poverty and don’t know where they will get their next meal.

This data offers a lot of insight that can be useful for policy makers moving forward. It paints a relatively in-depth picture of what life is like for youth in Kentucky.

Especially as we prepare to enter the 2020 General Assembly session, this data can help legislators and other policy makers make smart decisions and good policies for children and their families in Kentucky.

As the report states, “This important tool helps us all continually reevaluate both our progress and our shortcomings – so we can collectively make course corrections to support our kids.”

There are more than 1 million children in Kentucky counting on us.

This is data that can be used by our schools, law enforcement, legislators, social workers, advocates and really anyone who works with children to shape a brighter future for our children.

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