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Child Well-Being Shows Improvement in Kentucky

Kentucky ranks 34th in the nation in overall child well-being according to a new report. Credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
Kentucky ranks 34th in the nation in overall child well-being according to a new report. Credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
July 21, 2015

JEFFERSONTOWN, Ky. – When it comes to child well-being, Kentucky is 34th in the nation according to an annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The 2015 Kids Count Data Book, out today, finds that compared to the beginning of the recession in 2008, Kentucky has made improvements in 11 of the 16 key metrics.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, says while the state has moved out of "the basement" – where he says it was a decade ago – plenty of challenges remain.

"We certainly hope that nobody is satisfied with that," says Brooks. "If you talk about bourbon, horse racing or basketball in Kentucky, nobody would be satisfied with a 'bottom third' ranking, and we shouldn't be satisfied when it comes to kids, either."

Kentucky is showing the most improvement in health indicators, according to the report, ranking 24th nationally. Brooks credits that in large part to KCHIP, the state's children's health insurance program.

Brooks is convinced the biggest problem facing Kentucky continues to be poverty, as families struggle with basic living expenses. The report finds one in four children in the commonwealth lives in poverty.

"Unless, and until, we can begin to change the trajectory for poverty in Kentucky, the overall trajectory for kids in Kentucky is not going to change," he says.

Brooks cites family-focused tax reform as one example of how improvements could be made.

While Kentucky showed gains in three of the four education-related categories, Brooks says celebration would ring "hollow." Two-thirds of the state's fourth-graders are still not reading at the national standard, while 70 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient in math.

"In the world of 2015, we have to think about how our fourth-graders and eighth-graders are doing, and how they're competing with kids in Wisconsin and West Virginia and California," he says.

Brooks adds that while K-through-12 educators are working hard, more kids need to be enrolled in preschool. According to the Kids Count report, 67,000 Kentucky children are not in preschool – a number which makes up about 58 percent of Kentucky's three- and four-year-olds.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY