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New Kids Count report on children’s well-being shows how kids are faring in Louisville area

Four kids play outside, two of whom are playing with a pile of dirt in the foreground.
Public Domain
A new Kids Count report shows how Kentucky's 120 counties are faring on different metrics related to children's well-being.

There are about 1.1 million Kentuckians ages 19 and younger. Kentucky Youth Advocates released an annual report Wednesday that provides county-level data on their well-being.

Kids Count is a national initiative led by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and it examines 16 indicators of children’s well-being. Each indicator is grouped into one of four categories: Economic Security, Family and Community, Education and Health.

The organization Kentucky Youth Advocates partners with the foundation on the Kids Count initiative. Wednesday’s report shows how the state’s 120 counties improved or worsened on each indicator by comparing the latest available data to past data.

“So every county can look at: Where were we, and where are we? How do we compare to surrounding counties? And what lessons can we learn?” said KYA Executive Director Terry Brooks at a news conference Wednesday morning.

How KYA say state officials could utilize the report

Brooks said the new Kids Count data “should be the roadmap” for freshly reelected Gov. Andy Beshear, as well as Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers and Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne, as they gear up for the state’s 2024 legislative session.

This year’s Kid Count report, “more than most,” serves as a warning sign, Brooks said Wednesday.

“Even areas where historically we’ve done better, there’s warning signs,” he said. “For instance, we still have a very high rate of kids who are covered for health insurance. That’s good news.

“The bad news is well over half the counties in Kentucky are showing a decline in that.”

Brooks said the challenge for Beshear and the Kentucky Legislature’s Republican leaders is to prevent the warning signs from turning into a crisis.

The Kids Count report lists a variety of proposed solutions to help improve children’s well-being, such as investing state money in affordable housing initiatives and dedicating state funds to understaffed child care providers.

It also recommends expanding Medicaid’s network for mental health care by raising reimbursement rates for those services — especially since an estimated one in six Kentucky kids ages 13 to 17 experience anxiety or depression.

“What we want these numbers to do is galvanize Gov. Beshear, and we want it to galvanize President Stivers, and we want it to galvanize Speaker Osborne into creating a common-ground, common-sense agenda for the common good of Kentucky’s kids,” Brooks said.

How Jefferson County did on key metrics

Jefferson County improved on all four indicators of economic security: the percentages of children in poverty, children in low-income families, children living in food-insecure households and high rental cost burden.

The “high rental cost burden” category represents “the percentage of renters whose household income is not sufficient to afford the average cost of rent plus utilities, without having to spend 30% or more of their income on those costs.”

Data from the 2017-2021 period show 44% of Jefferson County renters lived in that situation, down from 47% in 2012-2016. Those numbers match the statewide figures for Kentucky.

A chart shows how Jefferson County fared on four different indicators of economic security, as well as how Kentucky fared on those same indicators as a state.
Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates just released an annual Kids Count report. This chart shows how Jefferson County and the state fared on metrics related to economic security.

On education metrics, the Kids Count report reviewed and compared recent school years’ data for Jefferson County Public Schools.

The school district worsened on two metrics:

  • The percentage of eighth-grade students proficient in math.
  • The percentage of incoming kindergartners who met readiness-to-learn standards.

But the district improved on the other two metrics in the education category:

  • The percentage of fourth-grade students proficient in reading.
  • The percentage of high school students graduating on time. 

JCPS scored lower than the latest statewide figures for each of the four indicators.

A chart shows how the Jefferson County and Anchorage public school districts fared on four education-related metrics. The lefthand side shows how Kentucky fared on those same indicators as a state.
Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates just released an annual Kids Count report. This chart shows how public school districts in Jefferson County fared on education-related metrics.

Jefferson County had a mixed record of improvement on Kids Count’s health-related indicators. The percentage of births to mothers who reported smoking during pregnancy improved from 10% in the 2014-2016 period to 8.3% in 2019-2021 — the sixth-best ranking among counties in the state.

The county saw a small decrease in the percentage of children under 19 years old with health insurance, which dipped from 97.5% in 2016 to 96.7% in 2021. But it still has the eighth-best rate in the state.

A chart shows how Jefferson County fared on four health-related metrics. The left-hand side shows how Kentucky fared on those same indicators as a state.
Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates just released an annual Kids Count report. This chart shows how Jefferson County and the state fared on metrics related to health.

Lastly, Jefferson County improved on two metrics in the “family and community” category. The rate of local youth incarcerated in the juvenile justice system declined when comparing the 2015-2017 period to the 2020-2022 period. Likewise, the percentage of births to mothers without a high-school degree declined when comparing the 2014-2016 period to the 2019-2021 period.

But the county worsened on two metrics related to the foster care system: the rate of children in foster care and the percentage of children leaving foster care who got reunified with their parents or their primary caretakers.

A chart shows how Jefferson County fared on four metrics in the "family and community" category. The left-hand side shows how Kentucky fared on those same indicators as a state.
Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates just released an annual Kids Count report. This chart shows how Jefferson County and the state fared on metrics related to family and community.

How nearby counties in the Louisville Metro region fared

Louisville Public Media looked at how four of Jefferson County’s neighbors — Bullitt, Oldham, Shelby and Spencer counties — fared on key metrics in the Kids Count report.

Here’s how they stacked up on the percentage of children in poverty:

  • Bullitt: Improved from 14.4% in 2016 to 13.7% in 2021.
  • Oldham: Improved from 6% in 2016 to 4.6% in 2021.
  • Shelby: Improved from 15.7% in 2016 to 12.2% in 2021.
  • Spencer: Improved from 10.7% in 2016 to 9.1% in 2021.

Here are their figures for the percentage of renters facing a high rental cost burden:

  • Bullitt: Improved from 45% for the 2012-2016 period to 40% for the 2017-2021 period.
  • Oldham: Improved from 45% for 2012-2016 to 32% for 2017-2021.
  • Shelby: Improved from 48% for 2012-2016 to 36% for 2017-2021. 
  • Spencer: Improved from 28% for 2012-2016 to 24% in 2017-2021.

Here’s how the counties’ public school districts fared on the percentage of fourth-grade students proficient in reading:

  • Bullitt: 50% for the 2022-2023 school year, versus 54% for the 2021-2022 term.
  • Oldham: 60% for the 2022-2023 school year, versus 59% for 2021-2022.
  • Shelby: 32% for the 2022-2023 school year, versus 38% for 2021-2022.
  • Spencer: 45% for the 2022-2023 school year, versus 53% for 2021-2022.

And here’s how they did on the percentage of eighth-grade students proficient in math:

  • Bullitt: 35% for the 2022-2023 school year, versus 39% for the 2021-2022 term.
  • Oldham: 56% for the 2022-2023 term, versus 58% for 2021-2022.
  • Shelby: 25% for the 2022-2023 school year, versus 37% for 2021-2022.
  • Spencer: 38% for the 2022-2023 school year, versus 22% for 2021-2022.

The counties scored well on the percentage of children under 19 years old with health insurance:

  • Bullitt: 96.8% for 2021, down slightly from 97.1% in 2016.
  • Oldham: 97.3% for 2021, holding steady compared to 2016.
  • Shelby: 94.6% for 2021, down slightly from 95.4% in 2016.
  • Spencer: 95.6% for 2021, down slightly from 96.5% in 2016.  

Here’s how the counties fared on the percentage of children leaving foster care to reunify with their parents or primary caretakers:

  • Bullitt: 27% of children reunified for the 2020-2022 period, down from 41% for 2015-2017.
  • Oldham: 26% of children reunified for the 2020-2022 period, down from 40% for 2015-2017.
  • Shelby: 35% of children reunified for the 2020-2022 period, up from 32% for 2015-2017.
  • Spencer: 18% of children reunified for the 2020-2022 period, down from 35% for 2015-2017.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.

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