Kids Count: Owen stacks up well against other counties in the region for factors that affect children

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For the News-Herald

For the first year, the annual Kentucky Kids Count Data Book, published by Kentucky Youth Advocates, has ranked the counties in the commonwealth according to indicators that show where each county stands in terms of child well-being.
The data book has been compiled for 23 years in Kentucky and is part of the national project conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The goal of tracking the data is to analyze trends to help states and localities address the needs of children in their communities.
“Investments that promote strong families will not only help children succeed as the work force of our future, but will also increase economic development in the present,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “It’s time to make children and families a priority in our state by investing in programs that keep parents working and promote economic security.”
The data collected by the Casey Foundation is based on critical data groups that focus on more than 100 indicators measuring overall well-being for children, which range from health issues such as low birth weight; education issues, such as percentage of children born to mothers who didn’t complete high school diplomas; to economic issues, such as percentage of children born in poverty.
To determine the county rankings, 16 critical indicators of child well-being were divided among four “domains”:  economic security, education, health, and family and community.
Based on that breakdown, Kentucky itself ranked low among the 50 states at 34th.
At the state level, the Data Book shows Owen ranking 39th; Trimble, 41st; Henry, 67th; and Gallatin, 90th.Carroll County ranked 109th.
The top five counties in the ranking were Oldham, Boone, Calloway, Spencer and Woodford. The bottom five counties were Knox, Elliott, Martin, Fulton and Clay.

Overview of the  four domains

Economic Security. According to the data book, a family’s ability to meet financial needs allows them to address the health and well-being of parents and the physical, emotional and educational needs of children. Employment status, household poverty, poverty rate and cost of housing are factors that can affect how a child grows, learns and succeeds as an adult.
According to KYA, the recent recession and the resulting loss of jobs, with many people still unemployed in 2012, eroded opportunities for children statewide.
With the exception of rental-cost burden percentages, Carroll’s percentages were higher than any of the other four counties for the four indicators studied.
In Carroll, 33.5 percent of children are living in poverty, compared to Henry, 32.8 percent; Gallatin, 28.9 percent; Owen, 18.3 percent; and Trimble, 16.8 percent. Statewide, in 2012, 27 percent of Kentucky children lived in poverty, compared to 23 percent nationally.
Just over 7.6 percent of Owen County teens were “disconnected,” meaning they were not attending school and were not working, based on data from 2007-11. In 2011, 8 percent of youth ages 16-18 fell into that category statewide and nationally.
“More young people than ever are neither in school nor working,” according to KYA’s Data Book. “These disconnected youth face increasing competition from older workers for ... scarce entry-level jobs, and they lack the skills for better paying jobs.”
Percentages in surrounding counties all were below the state and national percentage: Carroll County, 13 percent; Henry, 7 percent; and Trimble, 4.5 percent. In Gallatin, fewer than six teens were reported out of school and not working from 2007-11, therefore no percentage was calculated.
Parental joblessness can result in stress for children even if they are too young to grasp a family’s economic situation, according to the data book.
At 13.8 percent and 10 percent respectively, Carroll and Gallatin were among 17 Kentucky counties where unemployment rates for families with children were 10 percent or higher. In Owen County, the rate was 4.4 percent.
Along with strengthening the economy, KYA believes the state should increase access to unemployment insurance and raise benefits “to provide a stronger safety net for struggling families.”
Housing costs appear to be highest for renters in Gallatin, where the study shows 65 percent of renters pay more than 30 percent of their income toward housing costs (rent and utilities). That rate was followed closely by Henry at 64 percent; Trimble, 50 percent; Carroll, 49 percent; and Owen, 43 percent. Statewide, the rate is 54 percent.
KYA suggests that the state initiate an earned-income credit to help low-income working families cover basic needs and reduce property tax assessments for developers who create affordable housing.   

Education. Preschool attendance, proficiency and graduation rates are strong indicators for how bright a child’s future will be when they reach adulthood.
At 83.7 percent, Carroll had the highest rate of children ages 3-4 not attending preschool among the five counties. Owen’s rate was next highest at 76.4 percent, followed by Gallatin, 66.1 percent; Henry, 51.2 percent; and Trimble, 50 percent.
Statewide, 58 percent of eligible children were not enrolled in preschool; nationally, the rate is 54 percent.
The data book also looked at proficiency rates, particularly reading proficiency for fourth-graders and math proficiency for eighth-graders.
In Owen County, 55.6 percent of fourth-graders were not proficient in reading.
In Carroll County, 64.7 percent of fourth-graders were not proficient in reading. Only Gallatin had a higher rate at 65.3 percent, with the other counties coming in lower: Henry, 63.7 percent; and Trimble with the lowest at 45.7 percent.
According to KYA, increasing participation in preschool would increase the number of students who earn proficient scores in math and reading.
At 51.9 percent, Trimble also had the lowest number of eighth-graders who were not proficient in math. Gallatin was next lowest at 54.2 percent, followed by Carroll, 63.8 percent; Owen, 64.2 percent; and Henry, 67.2 percent.
Trimble, conversely, had the highest rate of high school students not graduating on time, at 25.4 percent, followed by Owen, 13.3 percent; Henry, 11.8 percent; Carroll, 11.6 percent; and Gallatin, 9.2 percent.
Nationally, that rate was 22 percent of students in the 2009-10 school year did not graduate on time; statewide, in 2012-13, the rate was 13.9 percent.

Health. “Access to quality healthcare is essential if children are to reach their potential,” KYA states. Risk factors for children include mothers who smoke during pregnancy, low birth weight, hospitalization for asthma and teen birth rates.
Regionally, the five counties reported similar rates for the number of women who smoke while pregnant. Henry reported the lowest at 33.2 percent followed by Carroll at 34.7 percent; Owen, 38.6 percent; Gallatin, 39.9 percent; and Trimble, 41.4 percent.
Statewide, 23 percent of expectant mothers smoked while pregnant.
KYA advocates enacting a statewide smoke-free law, increasing the state’s tobacco tax and encouraging healthcare providers to promote screening, counseling and referrals to smoking-cessation programs to pregnant women.
Kentucky’s low birth weight rate is one of the highest in the nation at 9.1 percent, ranking 43rd out of 50. Nationally, the rate is 8.1 percent.
Gallatin’s rate came in highest in the region, with more than 10 percent of babies born weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth. The other counties came in lower than the national average, with Trimble reporting 7.9 percent; Carroll, 7.8 percent; Henry, 7.2 percent; and Owen, 6.9 percent.
Low-birth weight babies, according to KYA, are more likely to face short- and long-term health complications and a higher mortality rate during their first year of life. Improved prenatal care and reduced smoking are two things KYA says could help babies get a better start at birth.
Henry County fell between the state average of 11 percent of children suffering from asthma and 9 percent nationwide, reporting 9.9 percent of children afflicted. The rest of the counties reported below the national average: Carroll, 8.8 percent; Trimble, 7.7 percent; and Owen, 3 percent. With fewer than five cases reported, no percentage was calculated for Gallatin.
Teens giving birth appears to be an issue in Carroll County, which reported 77.2 teen births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19, more than double the national rate of 31 per 1,000 and far higher than the statewide rate of 43 per 1,000. Carroll’s rate also was significantly higher than surrounding counties: Henry reported 56.8 per 1,000; Gallatin, 52.6; Owen, 47.7; and Trimble, 47.6.
“Teen births increase expenditures for public health, child welfare and incarceration, and decrease tax revenue,” according to KYA. “The most effective way to reduce Kentucky teen pregnancies is to educate youth about sex and risky sexual behaviors, and ensure teens have access to effective contraceptive methods.”

Family and Community. Growing up in a stable family environment within a supportive community is crucial to helping children thrive, according to the data book.
The four indicators used in the rankings looked at whether the mother finished high school, the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas, the number of children being raised by someone other than their parents and youth incarceration rates.
The five counties reported similar rates of births to mothers without diplomas. Carroll came in highest at 29.7 percent, followed by Trimble, 24 percent; Gallatin, 23.5 percent; Owen, 22.8 percent; and Henry, 21.5 percent.
Carroll also had the highest number of children living in high-poverty areas, which KYA says puts entire communities at risk. “The problems with poverty are amplified when the poverty rate for an area rises above 20 percent. ... The residents are more susceptible to unemployment, violence and crime.”
Carroll reported 76.7 percent of children are living in high-poverty areas, compared to 38.3 percent statewide and 12 percent nationally. Gallatin was next at 68.9 percent, followed by Henry at 22.4 percent. Owen and Trimble reported 0 percent of children living in areas where at least 20 percent of the population was poor.
Though removing children from abusive or neglectful parents is a positive thing to do, children raised by relatives or in the foster-care system have higher rates of teen pregnancies and mental-health issues and earn lower incomes in adulthood, KYA states.
In Kentucky, an average of 33.7 of 1,000 children through age 17 were in out-of-home care. Trimble exceeded that number, reporting 46.7 of 1,000 children in that age group being raised by someone other than their parents, followed by Carroll at 32 per 1,000; Gallatin, 23.3; Henry, 22.8; and Owen, 14.9.
And, though KYA agrees that youth need to be held accountable for their actions, “effective, evidence-based interventions” and “a rehabilitative approach that addresses the root cause of the behavior” not only can put them on a better path, but would improve public safety and save tax money. “Incarcerated youth face a greater probability of poor education, less employment ... and are at increased risk of being incarcerated again.”
According to the data book, U.S. juvenile crime rates have fallen since 1997, but remain five times higher than the next highest nation, South Africa, according to the data book.
Statewide, 51.9 of every 1,000 children age 10-17 were incarcerated from 2010-12. In Carroll County, that rate is almost double at 89.3 per 1,000 – dramatically higher than the four surrounding counties. Gallatin was next highest at 35.2 per 1,000, followed by Owen, 23.1; Henry, 14.9; and Trimble, 10.6.
For a comprehensive look at the entire data book, including information about how communities can improve and links to information about the Casey Foundation, visit KyYouth.org/kentucky-kids-count.


Phyllis McLaughlin is a writer for the News-Democrat in Carollton.