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Kentucky Youth Advocates release ’22 Kids Count data book, and the challenges become clearer

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Kentucky Youth Advocates released its 2022 Kids Count data book on Wednesday, with 16 measures of child well-being, showing whether outcomes for children across the state have improved, worsened, or stayed the same over a five-year period.

“Kentucky’s kids have withstood some hard knocks through the pandemic, as well as deadly tornadoes and flooding, yet they have shown their resilience,” said Terry Brooks, executive director, Kentucky Youth Advocates in issuing the report.

“With the November 2022 elections behind us, the 2023 gubernatorial race will soon kick into high gear ahead of a highly contested primary this May. Our kids are depending on us to stand above the political fray. One first step is to ensure the voices of the young people in our lives are heard in communities to the statehouse.”

A survey of young people came up with these findings:

• Top of mind for many students is the need to feel safe at school, whether that’s being prepared to act quickly and effectively in the case of a school shooting or taking measures to improve the school climate. A recurring theme from young people was feeling threatened by too many guns in their community, as the data show that firearm deaths among Kentucky children increased by 83% between 2013-2015 to 2018-2020.

• Many young people, both rural and urban, expressed a desire to improve the physical environments they live in and for spaces for them to be active or simply hang out with friends.

“I would love to see more walkable neighborhoods and outdoor activities that would draw kids outside and to allow them to interact with their communities,” said Clara, 19, from Jefferson County.

• When asked what state leaders should prioritize, many young people talked about the need to support their mental health and the importance of having good friends and connections to caring, trusted adults in their lives.

In 2020, 15.9% of Kentucky children and teens struggled with anxiety or depression.

• When asked what state leaders should care most about, young people overwhelmingly identified education as a top priority. “Whether this is through college or trade school or a good job, state leaders should make sure schools are educating kids in order to prepare them for the future,” said a 13-year-old student from Hancock County.

Brooks said, “14-year-old Sadie from Daviess County said it best: ‘Our words still matter, even if we are young.’

“Decisions made in Frankfort have a massive impact on opportunities for kids and we must engage them in helping to set those priorities.”

Other data findings in the 32nd annual Kids Count survey released Wednesday include:

• While child poverty rates improved in 116 out of 120 counties compared to five years ago, 19% of children overall continue to live in poverty.

• Just 44% of kindergarteners
entered school ready to learn last school year.

• Rates of smoking during pregnancy continue to decline with 103 counties showing progress, yet nearly 1 in 6 (15.7%) births are to mothers who reported smoking during pregnancy.

• Comparing 2014-2016 to 2019-2021, 88 counties showed an increase in the rates of children in foster care, highlighting a 31% increase in the rate statewide.

• 8,010 youth were incarcerated in 2019-21, which is nearly half the rate seen in 2014-16.

This was the 32nd annual edition of the Kids Count survey. 

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