An annual report measuring the health and well-being of Kentucky children shows progress in nine different categories, including the teenage birth rate, children living in poverty and children with health insurance. But the state still lags behind the nation in other areas, like in the number of babies born with low-birth weights and the number of young children not enrolled in school.
The annual Kids Count Data Book has tracked a steady decline in the economic well-being of Kentucky children for more than a decade, but this year the state improved in most categories, according to Terry Brooks, the executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. He said improvements in the national economy are having a positive ripple effect on Kentucky’s children.
“It’s easy in a state like Kentucky to think about poverty as so endemic that you can’t do anything about it,” Brooks said. “Maybe this report for once says the needle is moving in a positive direction.”
The report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows Kentucky had fewer children living in poverty and had more parents with secure employment in 2016 compared to 2010. Fewer Kentucky teens were also out of school and not working — a change from 11 percent in 2010 to eight percent in 2016.
Brooks said Kentucky has the nation’s highest rate of children living in kinship care, or the care of a family member other than their parent. And 16 percent of Kentucky children live in high poverty areas, which are defined as neighborhoods where 30 percent or more of residents have incomes at or below the poverty limit.
“That should remind faith communities, it should remind school houses, it should remind the medical community that the families in which kids are growing up today don’t look like they did 25 years ago,” Brooks said. “It’s not mom and dad and 2.4 siblings, but it may be a young person living with a grandparent or in a single parent family or with a teen mom.”
Kids With Insurance
In 2016, nearly all children in Kentucky had health insurance — 97 percent — which is higher than the U.S. average of 96 percent.
Brooks with Kentucky Youth Advocates said when kids have health coverage, they have a better chance of getting care that prevents bigger medical problems later on. But he cautioned that this high percentage of children with insurance might shift after Medicaid benefit and requirements changes go into effect July 1 as part of Gov. Matt Bevin’s overhaul of the state Medicaid system.
“The elephant in the room is whether or not the implantation of [the Medicaid changes] has an impact on kids,” Brooks said. “We do know that the highest correlation between kids being covered is whether parents are covered — my worry is that there will be a trickle-down effect and impact kid’s coverage.”
Research shows that kids are more likely to have health insurance or get preventive care when parents also have coverage.
Babies Born With Low Birth-Weights
In 2016, 8.2 percent of babies nationwide were born weighing below 5.5 pounds, which is considered a “low birth-weight.” According to the report, this is an important indicator of future health, because these babies have a high probability of having a short- or long-term disability, and have a greater risk of dying within the first year of life.
Kentucky babies fared slightly worse than the national average: in 2016, 9.1 percent of the state’s babies were born at a low birth weight. Of those, African-American babies were most likely to be born with a low weight. There are numerous factors that can contribute: obesity, poor nutrition, stress and smoking.
Brooks said county and city governments can help combat this by passing tobacco control measures, like banning smoking in the workplace.
“If there’s anything in this entire report that shouts for local action, it’s around that issue because we know that the primary cause of low birth weight are pregnant women who smoke,” Brooks said.
Other Areas Of Note
- 59 percent of children ages 3 – 4 were not in school between 2014 and 2016.
- 62 percent of fourth-graders were not proficient in reading in 2017.
- 25 percent of kids live at or above the poverty line in 2016.