Warren County has made progress in reducing the rate of teen births and youth incarcerated in the juvenile justice system, among other improvements, according to the 2017 Kids Count County Data Book released Tuesday.
The release by Kentucky Youth Advocates offers the latest county-by-county data on 17 measures of child well-being across the areas of economic security, education, health and family and community.
For Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, the release “invites folks at the local level to dig in.”
“I hope it presents a compelling opportunity for action in every community,” he said.
The full report and profiles for each county are available at kyyouth.org.
Although Kentucky has seen a small reduction in child poverty between 2010 and 2015, one in four children still live in poverty and 48 percent live in low-income families, a news release said.
According to the report, 12 percent of Kentucky kids live in “deep poverty,” which is defined as a family of four living on an annual income of $12,000 or less. Another 48 percent live in low-income families, which the report defines as a family of four living on an annual income of $48,072 or less.
Additionally, 7 percent of Kentucky children are being raised by grandparents or relatives – the highest rate in the nation. More children are being placed in out-of-home care with rate increases in 88 of Kentucky’s 120 counties, according to the report.
However, the state is also seeing positive trends, with a 57 percent decrease in youth incarceration rates and a declining teen birth rate that mirrors the national downward trend.
For Brooks, the report is an opportunity for communities across Kentucky to have conversations about what they value and then make their values known to lawmakers before they set to work creating a budget during the next legislative session.
Although all of the problems addressed in the report can’t be solved with money alone, Brooks said more revenue must be set aside if the state truly hopes to address them. He described the state’s budget as a value statement.
“Maybe it’s time for the commonwealth to have a common conversation about what do we value and what are our priorities,” he said.
Brooks said Kentucky Youth Advocates will focus heavily on lobbying lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session for more resources for grandparents and relatives who are raising children of absent parents.
“That is one of our top-tier priorities,” he said.
On the local level, Warren County saw progress on several measures.
The percentage of children in poverty decreased from 25.5 percent in 2010 to 22.9 percent in 2015, the latest year available.
The percentage of children living in food insecure households also decreased from 19.3 percent in 2011 to 17.9 percent in 2015. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food security as access to enough food for a healthy, active lifestyle.
Warren County also made strides under the report’s education category, with both Warren County Public Schools and the Bowling Green Independent School District increasing the percentage of kindergartners ready to start school.
Warren County Public Schools rose to 51.7 percent in the 2016-17 school year from 49.4 percent in the 2013-14 school year. The Bowling Green Independent School District jumped to 58.8 percent in the 2016-17 school year from 56.2 percent in the 2013-14 school year.
The Bowling Green Independent School District saw slight declines for fourth-graders proficient in reading and high school students graduating on time. However, the district also saw a sharp improvement in eighth-graders proficient in math, rising from 52.7 percent in the 2011-12 school year to 76.3 percent in the 2016-17 school year.
In the health category, Warren County saw the greatest amount of progress in reducing the rate of teen births. The rate is defined as every 1,000 females between 15 and 19 years old. That rate was 33.9 in 2008 through 2010, but it dropped to 19.1 through 2013 and 2015.
The rate of incarcerated youth also sharply fell. The rate is per 1,000 children from 10 to 17 years old. That figure fell from 68.4 between 2008 and 2010 to 32.7 between 2014 and 2016.