Kentucky is making small improvements for its children after several years of declines, according to the new Kids Count data book.
But they continue to face problems: Kentucky has low rates of breast-feeding and low achievement rates among disabled children, and some schools still use spankings — corporal punishment — as a form of discipline.
"We, as a state, are still 41st in terms of overall well-being," said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, the group that puts out the yearly report. "There is no way we Kentuckians can feel good about being in the bottom 10 for kids."
Brooks said it is unclear whether Kentucky's signs of improvement are the beginning of a new trend or a blip.
The good news, Brooks said, is that many of Kentucky's issues can be addressed without spending a lot of money.
Kentucky could, for example, encourage more women to breast-feed and encourage more low-income workers to file for the federal earned-income tax credit, Brooks said.
The state also could create its own earned-income tax credit. That proposal comes with a price tag in the tens of millions, but 90 percent of that money is spent in the community where the low-income-earners live, Brooks said. A coalition of children's groups, including Kentucky Youth Advocates, is pushing for a state earned-income tax credit.
This year's Kids Count data show an increase in child-support collections and high school graduation rates and a decrease in teen birthrates and asthma hospitalizations.
In Fayette County, the number of high school graduates increased 4 percentage points, to 79 percent of students between 2003 and 2007.
The number of Fayette County students graduating from college within six years of starting increased 10 percentage points, to 52 percent between 2004 and 2006.
The improvement in college preparation is a "real cause for celebration," Brooks said.