A state organization dedicated to improving child well-being across the Commonwealth has released data indicating the state of children in five areas that can impact their lives and the trends in each county and statewide.
The data shows Whitley County lagging behind state averages in three key income related categories
According to the data released in the 2017 Kids Count County Data Book, more than 850,000 children across the state live near or below the poverty line.
While the number of children living in deep poverty, defined as below 50 percent of the federal poverty level, has remained steady over the last five years at 12 percent, statewide, the number of children living in low-income families, has increased slightly from 47 to 48 percent.
The number of children across the state living in poverty has decreased slightly from 26.1 percent to 25.3 percent.
Whitley County has seen increases in each of the three categories over the same period.
The number of children in deep poverty has increase from 17 percent to 19 percent.
The number of children in poverty has increase from 37.6 percent to 38.9 percent.
The number of children in low-income families has increased from 67 percent to 69 percent.
“Growing up in a financially stable home affects almost every other aspect of a young child’s life,” said Jennifer Hancock, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States.
Whitley County Public Health Director Martha Steele said that, overall, people continue to lead a sedentary lifestyle and eat an unhealthy diet.
“Poverty plays a role in that,” Steele said.
In an effort to combat that, Steele said officials at the health department are doing more public outreach.
“We are trying to go into the schools more to talk to the students about the importance of eating right and staying active,” Steele said adding that some of the consequences are also discussed, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Another such program designed to help are the walks around town with area public officials.
Such walks have been led by Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White, Jr., Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison, Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney and even KFC founder Col. Harland Sanders.
“One thing that has come up out of these, is people have asked about doing something monthly,” Steele said.
Steele said while the smoking numbers appear to be trending down, the number of smokers across the state and in Whitley County continue to outpace other parts of the country.
Steele said the health department can and does help area residents that are seeking to make a change.
There is a nutritionist on staff that can help residents to make better food choices. In addition, the health department offers smoking cesession classes for those looking to kick the habit.
“We can give you help and guidance,” Steele said.
In the category of education, the state has seen improvements in each of four categories including: Kindergarteners ready to learn, fourth graders proficient in reading, eighth graders proficient in math and high school students graduating on time.
Whitley County area school systems, which includes Williamsburg and Corbin independent schools, each saw a decrease in the percentage of kindergarteners ready to learn. In addition, the percentage of fourth grade students proficient in reading declined at Corbin.
However, each of the three school systems saw significant increases in the percentage of eighth graders proficient in math and in the percentage of high school students graduating on time.
“On paper, Kentucky kids are improving in educational outcomes, but when you look closely, you see we still have a long way to go,” said Dale Brown, Director of College and School Relations at Western Kentucky University, former school superintendent, and Kentucky Youth Advocates board member. “Only half of kindergartners enter school ready to learn. We must team with all stakeholders to ensure that every child has the tools they need to graduate on time and ready for their next adventure-technical training or a 4-year degree.”
In the areas of health and family and community, Whitley County saw improvements in the majority of categories including the percentage of women smoking during pregnancy, teen births, births to sing mothers without a high school degree and youth incarcerated in the juvenile justice system.
Smoking during pregnancy in Whitley County decreased from 35.5 percent to 32.5 percent. To achieve an additional 10 percent improvement KYA officials estimate there would need to be 56 fewer such births.
The teen birthrate decreased from 62.7 percent to 51.1 percent. To achieve an additional 10 percent improvement CYA officials estimated there would need to be 20 fewer such births
“The good news is that there are fewer mothers smoking while pregnant and, in turn, fewer low-birthweight babies,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “The Foundation is committed to working with advocates and local communities to promote smoke-free ordinances, ensure that expectant mothers have easy access to effective tobacco treatment, and raise the state tax on cigarettes to reduce youth smoking. We must get serious about protecting our children from the harmful effects of tobacco in the Commonwealth.”
KYA officials said in addition to providing the data, their goal is to offer solutions, either on a local or state level, or involving some combination.
KYA officials said unlike in previous years, the 120 counties in Kentucky were not ranked in each category in order to foster more cooperation in finding solutions.
More information about recommended solutions is available online at http://kyyouth.org/kentucky-kids-count/
“Kentucky kids rely on their state leaders to make decisions and investments that prioritize them. As state agencies, the legislature, and Governor craft the next biennial budget and prepare for the 2018 session, we are calling on leaders to build a budget that invests in kids’ education, health, economic security, and safety. Our communities and economy can only win when Kentucky kids and their families succeed,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.