Whitesburg KY
Mostly clear
Mostly clear

Only 1 in 4 women pregnant here will seek prenatal care

New report warns low rate is in 'stark contrast' to state average

A new report says that while the number of pregnant women seeking early prenatal care has fallen dramatically in Letcher County, the county is still showing improvements in other areas that determine the well-being of children, including its high school graduation rate and the number of women who smoke during pregnancy.

The findings are included in the 17th annual Kentucky KIDS COUNT Data Book, which was just released by Kentucky Youth Advocates, a non-partisan, non-profit, children’s advocacy organization. The book provides state and countylevel data that can be used to measure and improve child well-being.

Among the report’s more alarming findings is that Letcher County had one of the lowest rates of early prenatal care in Kentucky in 2005. Only one in four (26 percent) pregnant women in Letcher County received

early prenatal care in 2005 – a dramatic decline from 51 percent in 2004 and in stark contrast to the statewide rate of 77 percent.

Prenatal care within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy is important in detecting pre-existing conditions and potential health problems in the mother so that they can be treated before posing a more serious problem.

On a more positive side is the report’s finding that Letcher County saw a dramatic drop in the percentage of women who reported smoking while pregnant, from 44 percent in 2004 to 38 percent in 2005. While this is still higher than the statewide average of 26 percent, the trend is declining in Letcher while remaining the same statewide.

The report also found that Letcher County is following the statewide trend of increasing graduation rates from high school. Some 84 percent of Letcher County high schoolers graduated in 2006 compared to 77 percent in 2003.

Among the concerns cited in the report about child well-being here was the finding that only 37 percent of Letcher County children enrolled in Medicaid or KCHIP visited a dentist in 2006 – a two-percentage point decrease from 2003 – even though they were eligible to receive free cleanings, x-rays, and extractions. Tooth decay is the most common childhood chronic disease. Studies have shown the connection between oral health and the overall well-being and development of a child.

The report proposes two ways to improve access to dental care for Letcher County’s children:

• A state-funded loan forgiveness program for dental providers serving Kentucky’s Medicaid and KCHIP population.

• Dental legislation that would require public school students between the ages of 3 and 5 to receive a dental screening within 30 days of enrollment.

The report says that Letcher County saw some improvement in child well-being between 2000 and 2004, with a three-percentage point decrease in the child poverty rate along with a rise in the median income. However, one in three Letcher County children still lives below the poverty line ($20,444 for a family of four). That number is higher than the state average of 22 percent.

Solutions cited by the report that could help raise more children and their families out of poverty in Kentucky include:

• The passing of a state law that would set a cap on the fees check-cashing establishments can charge to process checks in order to curb excessive costs incurred by Kentucky’s low-income families.

• The implementation of a state-level refundable earned-income tax credit (EITC) that offers the approximately 350,000 Kentucky working families a tax credit, allowing them to keep more of their earned money for daily needs and asset building.

The report also found:

• That the population of children in Letcher County ages 17 and below fell from 5,996 in 2000 to 5,353 in 2006. At the same time, the number of children ages 4 and under grew from 1,434 in 2000 to 1,540 in 2006.

• That of the children living in Letcher County in 2006, 41 were black, 24 were Hispanic, 5,247 were white, and 41 were listed as “other” races.

• That 81 Letcher County children were born to mothers without a high school degree in 2005, the same number as in 2004.

• That the number of births to teens 15-19 in Letcher County fell from 164 (a rate of 59 per 1,000) in 1999-2001 to 130 (a rate of 57 per 1,000) in 2003- 2005. The number of repeat births to teens 15-19 fell from 33 to 24 during the same period.

• That 408 Letcher County children were enrolled in KCHIP in 2006, down from 520 in 2001.

• That 2,808 Letcher County children were enrolled in Medicaid in 2006, down from 3,037 in 2000.

• That 2,203 Letcher County children were receiving food stamps in 2006, down from 2,303 in 2000.

• That 895 children in the Letcher County School District were receiving free or reducedprice breakfasts in 2006, while 1,796 were receiving free or reduced price lunches. In the Jenkins Independent School District in 2006, 246 students received the breakfasts and 380 received the lunches.

• That 58 percent of the $4,018,687 obligated in childsupport payments in Letcher County for 2007 has been collected. That number is well above the 47 percent of $2,142,210 that was collected in 2000.

The report says that among 47 indicators related to family and community, health, economic well-being, education, and safety, Kentucky showed more improvement than decline on the indicators studied.

“The findings are encouraging; Kentucky must log steady improvement if we hope to compete with other states,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “Yet we can’t ignore major areas where child well-being is getting worse in Kentucky, such as poverty, child maltreatment, and child deaths.”

“Increased participation in programs such as KCHIP, Medicaid, food stamps, and WIC is both good and bad,” stated Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, deputy director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “We’re glad to see families who need these supports are able to receive them, yet increased need, as reflected in the poverty rate, is an obvious concern.”

The Kentucky KIDS COUNT project is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s national effort to track child well-being. KYA produces the annual county data book in collaboration with the University of Louisville’s Urban Studies Institute.

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