Health & Medicine

Report ranks Kentucky 40th in child well-being

Some problems that have worsened in Kentucky since 2000 helped hold down the state's overall score in the latest KIDS COUNT report, an annual snapshot of child well-being in the United States.

Kentucky ranks 40th in the nation in the 2010 KIDS COUNT Data Book, which is being released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It looks at 10 measures of child well-being, such as the infant mortality rate, the percentage of teens not in school and the percentage of children living in poverty. Kentucky ranked 41st last year.

The latest report shows Kentucky improved in four measures since 2000: infant mortality, child death rate, teen death rate, and percentage of teens not in school and not high school graduates.

But it also says conditions in Kentucky have worsened since 2000 in three measures: percentage of low birth-weight babies, percentage of children living in poverty and percentage of children in single-parent families. Another measure, the rate of births to teens ages 15-19, has not changed, the report says.

The report shows that Kentucky's children continue to rank poorly on economic indicators, with 23 percent living in poverty as of 2008. The same year, one third of Kentucky children lived in families where no parent had a full-time job.

"Research consistently shows that ongoing exposure to economic hardship, especially when children are young, can compromise their development, limiting their opportunities, academic achievement and future health and productivity," said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

Some of Kentucky's improvements in KIDS COUNT resulted from state legislation passed in recent years to help protect children, Brooks said.

"We can already see evidence of fewer teen deaths thanks to the graduated driver's license law, which went into effect in October of 2006," Brooks said in a prepared statement. "We expect to see fewer child deaths as a result of the booster seat law that went into effect in July of 2008."

However, Kentucky's percentage of low birth-weight babies has continued to worsen since 2000, gradually rising from 8.2 percent to 9.3 percent in 2007.

Amy Swann, a policy analyst for Kentucky Youth Advocates, traces the problems to the number of Kentucky mothers who smoke during pregnancy. Swann said that state budget changes to allow smoking cessation programs for Kentuckians on Medicaid could help.