The biggest problem facing Kentucky children continues to be poverty, and that affects all other aspects of child well-being, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2015 KIDS COUNT report.
Unlike many states, Kentucky has not rebounded from the recession, which means families still struggle with basic living expenses, Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, which co-released the report, said in a news release.
"Here's the bottom line from this year's report. There is one overriding and persistent challenge: poverty," Brooks said.
"Over a quarter of a million of Kentucky's kids live in poverty — that is one in four young people. Reducing poverty is the single most impactful way to improve overall child well-being. You can't talk education or health without talking family economics. And we can begin to tackle persistent poverty only when economic well-being policy stops being political and starts being about the common good," said Brooks.
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The Fayette County Public Schools report card on the Kentucky Department of Education website provides one indicator of poverty in Fayette County. Among students in 2013-14, 46.6 percent were eligible for free lunch and 4.5 percent were eligible for reduced-price lunch.
Statewide in 2013-14, 52.1 percent were eligible for free lunch and 6.3 percent were eligible for reduced-price lunch.
Brooks said solutions such as ensuring families have access to responsible lending and financial services, and a more integrated approach to benefits access would help families build assets. Tax reform would make a difference, Brooks said.
"A state refundable earned income tax credit would help more working parents close the gap between what they earn and what they need to make ends meet," said Mike Hammons, director of advocacy for Children Inc. "Expanding other supports to working families, like child care assistance, would benefit thousands of children across Kentucky and ensure parents have safe child care while they work."
Kentucky ranks 34th in the nation in overall child well-being.
The state ranks 32nd in economic well-being, 30th in education, 24th in health, and 38th in family and community, according to the report. Overall, Kentucky's data trends mirror the data for the nation as a whole.
Some indicators of well-being have worsened since the start of the recession for Kentucky children: Children living in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, children in single parent families and children living in high poverty areas.
Also, the percentage of children not attending preschool has grown slightly since 2007-09.
Kentucky's most significant gains were in children's health. The child and teen mortality rate fell by 24 percent from 2008 to 2013, and the percentages of low-birth-weight babies, children without health insurance, and teens abusing alcohol or drugs also showed improvement since 2008.
The 24 percent decrease since 2008 in child and teen deaths — more than one-third of which are the result of accidental injuries — comes after the passage of graduated driver's licensing in 2006 and strong booster seat legislation in 2008, the Kentucky Youth Advocates news release said.
Though more students are graduating on time from high school, the report shows the majority of fourth-graders are still not reading at national proficiency standards, and the majority of eighth-graders are not proficient in math.