Kids Count report says hard times in early childhood are more likely in Ky. than rest of U.S.; bad times have long-term effects

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

One of every five children in Kentucky, by the time they are 5 years old, has experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse, economic hardship, exposure to violence, living in a household with mental illness or substance abuse, or where a family member has been incarcerated.

That is one of the major points of the 24th annual Kids Count report, released Tuesday by Kentucky Youth Advocates. The report is part of a state-by-state effort with county-by-county data; nationally, only one in eight children by age 5 have had two adverse experiences, defined as events or circumstances that can affect the quality of the child’s adult life, including their health and length of life.

“The higher the total number of these events a child experiences, the higher the risk of obesity, chronic illness, substance abuse, smoking and mental health problems,” the report says. Another study cited in the report found that “Children who had experienced four or more adverse events had lower incomes, lower education attainment and lost more days of work or school as adults due to problems with physical or mental health.”

“We know when children experience traumatic events such as abuse and neglect or having an incarcerated parent, it negatively impacts their health and often causes barriers to success later in life. Kentucky leaders need to enact solutions to prevent these experiences in the first place and when they do happen, help children successfully recover,” Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said in a press release.

This report by Kentucky Youth Advocates measures 16 indicators to determine the overall well-being of children in Kentucky counties and focuses on four areas considered critical to well-being: economic security, education, health, and family and community strength.

The Kentucky counties with the highest overall child well-being rankings are Oldham, Boone, Spencer, Woodford, and Calloway; the lowest are Martin, Owsley, Wolfe, Clay and Elliott.
Overall Child Well-Being, based on four factors:
economic security, education, health, and family and community.

The 2011-12 survey said that Kentucky children are more likely to experience two or more adverse events  (30 percent) than children are nationally (22.6 percent). The four most common adverse events among Kentucky’s children, says the report, are economic hardship, living with a parent or guardian who got divorced or separated, living with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs, and living with a parent or guardian who was incarcerated.

This study evaluated four indicators of health: smoking during pregnancy, low-birthweight babies, children and young adults without health insurance and teen births.  Oldham and Boone counties scored higher than the other counties on health and Elliott County ranked last.

Overall Health: County Comparisons.  Based on county
scores for the four indicators in the report.  

The study found Kentucky has the highest rate of mothers who smoke during pregnancy, one in five, compared to states with comparable data, reporting that the county rates varied widely in this area with less than 14 percent of expectant mothers in Fayette, Jefferson, and Oldham counties smoked, compared to 40 percent or more of mothers in Clay, Elliot, Lee, and Owsley counties.

The percentage of low-birthweight babies in Kentucky, often a result of smoking during pregnancy, between 1994-2012 (8.7 percent) was found to be consistently higher than the U.S. percentage (8.0 percent).

“All parents want what is best for their children, and we know that smoke is bad for kids,” Bethany Hodge, a pediatrician in Louisville, said in the release. “Kentucky needs an indoor smoke-free law so working mothers-to-be do not have to choose between their jobs and protecting their unborn babies.”

One in eight under 26 lacked health insurance in this study, but this number is expected to decline.

“Kentucky has effectively connected young people to health insurance, especially with the outreach efforts of KCHIP over the past few years and kynect over the past year,” Brooks said in the press release. “It’s important to build on those successes with innovative ways to connect all young people to coverage. One solution is to automatically enroll youth aging out of foster care in Medicaid to make sure they maintain health insurance as they leave the state’s care.”

As for teen births, in 2012, Kentucky’s rate of births to teen mothers (42 per 1,000) “substantially” exceed the national rate (29 per 1000).

Many of Kentucky’s children face adverse childhood experiences related to economic security.

According to the report, Kentucky has now had four consecutive years in which more than one in every four children lives in poverty, which is consistently higher than the national average. It also reports that more than two in every five Kentucky children live in a high-poverty area.

The report says, ” A family’s earnings and its poverty status, the level of poverty in its neighborhood and the affordability of housing can all affect how a child grows, learns and ultimately succeeds as an adult.”

Boone, Oldham and Spencer counties have the highest scores for economic security, while Lee, Martin and Wolfe have the lowest.

Economic security, based on scores for the four indicators in the report.

The results of the well-being of Kentucky’s children around education are concerning.

More than half (51 percent) of Kentucky’s children entering kindergarten are not adequately prepared for school and more than half  (51 percent) of its fourth graders are not proficient in reading and “therefore not on the path to high school graduation,” according to the report. The study also found that over half (55 percent) of Kentucky eighth graders are not proficient in math and that one in seven Kentucky high school students did not graduate on time.

Oldham and Lyon counties “stand apart” at the top of the  education county comparison, with Clinton, Knox, Menifee and Clay counties ranking last.

Education, based on scores for the four indicators in the report. 

Family and community indicators in the report found that Kentucky is not putting as many youth in jail as in previous years; nearly one in five births were to moms without a high school degree; the number of children living in a single-parent home has grown to 37 percent from 35 percent; and over the course of 2013, over 12,700 children were placed in foster care due to abuse or neglect.

Oldham, Boone, Carlisle, Ballard and Spencer counties rank at the top of the family and community county comparisons, with Powell, Clay, Elliott, Owsley and Carroll counties ranked at the bottom.

Family and Community, based on scores for the four indicators in the report. 

The report recommends implementation of strong policies to combat children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences. “The best option for Kentucky is to find ways to prevent adverse childhood experiences. Ensuring safe, stable and nurturing environments will shield children from toxic stress and its deleterious effects,” says the report.

Click here for the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, which includes current and historical data. Note that the indicators included in the 2014 rankings are different than those included in the 2013 County Data Book. Therefore, current rankings should not be compared to last year’s county rankings.

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