Marion County among state’s better places for children

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County ranked in the top 25 percent statewide, according to Kentucky Youth Advocates

By Stephen Lega

When Kentucky Youth Advocates released their 2013 Kids Count Data Book, this included a new feature ranking each county on overall child well being.
“Marion County was 22nd overall, which is doing fairly well among the counties within the state,” said Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, KYA’s chief policy officer.
She said the national Kids Count book does state-by-state rankings each year, so KYA decided to do county-by-county ratings based as closely as possibly on the national index.
Kentucky was ranked 34th nationally for child well being.
The KYA rankings were based on four domains — economic security, education, family and community strength, and health. Within each of those domains, KYA selected four indicators to assess each county’s rating.
Marion County received its best score in education, where it ranked 15th in the state. The county’s lowest rating was in health, where it was listed as 57th in Kentucky.
It’s worth noting that even in Marion County’s lowest rated domain, it remains in the top half of the state’s 120 counties.
Economic security
Marion County was 32nd statewide in terms of economic security.
According to the KYA data, 22.3 percent of Marion County children lived in poverty from 2007-11, compared to 25.1 percent statewide.
Roughly 1 in 10 teenagers (10.2 percent) was neither in school nor working (compared to 9.4 percent statewide).
One area where Marion County was doing notably better than the statewide average is parental unemployment. According to the KYA, only 3.7 percent of Marion County parents were unemployed between 2007 and 2011. Statewide, 6.3 percent of parents were not working during that same time period.
However, more than half of Marion County families who rent — 54 percent — faced a high rental cost burden. This matches the statewide average.
High rental cost burden is based on renters who have to pay more than 30 percent of their household income to afford a two-bedroom apartment, including rent and utilities.
“If children don’t have economic security, that can affect several other areas of their life,” Grieshop-Goodwin said.
One of those areas is education, which as mentioned earlier, is where Marion County ranked the highest at 15th.
Marion County’s percent of children not attending preschool is higher than the state average, 65.1 percent compared to 56 percent.
But Marion County is doing better than the state average in the three other categories KYA used to determine its education rankings.
In Marion County, 58.9 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading and 53 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math. Statewide, less than half of fourth and eighth graders met that benchmark.
Marion County is also doing better than the state in terms of graduating students. According to KYA’s data, 93.2 percent of Marion County students finish high school on time. Statewide, that figure is 86.1 percent.
Family and                     community strength
KYA also looked at family and community strength. Marion County was 24th in this domain.
“Parenting can have a significant impact in all the other areas,” Grieshop-Goodwin said.
Marion County is doing better than the state average in all four criteria KYA used to measure family and community strength.
While one in three Marion County children (33.6 percent) live in a high poverty area, statewide that figure is 38.3 percent.
In Marion County, 16.2 percent of children are born to a mother without a high school degree. Statewide, that is 19.2 percent.
The KYA also looked at children who are in out-of-home care (state-run childcare facilities, private child care facilities and homes, and licensed foster care). According to the KYA data, 28.1 of every 1,000 children in Marion County were in some kind of out-of-home care. Statewide, that rate is 33.7 children per 1,000.
Marion County is also doing much better than the state average with regard to youth incarceration. KYA reported that 26.4 of every 1,000 Marion County children 10-17 years old were booked in a juvenile detention facility from 2010-12. Statewide, that rate was 51.9 children per 1,000.
As mentioned above, this was Marion County’s worst area at 57th statewide.
According to the KYA data, Marion County is doing worse than the state averages in three of the four categories used to determine this ranking.
Between 2009 and 2011, 33.2 percent of babies born in Marion County had mothers who smoked during pregnancy. Statewide, that occurred in 26.4 percent of births.
Marion County also had a higher rate of babies born to teenage mothers — 48.4 of every 1,000 births — than Kentucky rate of 45.6 per 1,000 births.
Marion County also had a higher percent of low birthweight babies than the Kentucky average. In Marion County, 9.5 percent of babies weighed less than 5.5 pounds at birth compared to 8.9 percent statewide.
Jennifer Osborne, the Marion County Health Department community educator, said many criteria the KYA considered are inter-related.
For example, smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of low birthweight babies and even miscarriages. Likewise, teenage mothers are more likely to give birth to low birthweight babies, she said.
Osborne has seen progress in recent years, however.
“Our teen birth rate in Marion County has been going down significantly,” she said.
In 2007, 56 of every 1,000 babies born in Marion County had a mother 15 to 19 years old. In 2011, that rate had decreased to 46 of every 1,000 babies having a teen mother.
The one health criteria where Marion County performed better than the states was hospitalizations due to asthma. Between 2008 and 2012, 5.9 of every 1,000 children in Marion County was hospitalized for asthma. Statewide, 10.5 of every 1,000 children spent time in the hospital for asthma.
District comparison
Within the Lincoln Trail Area Development District, Marion County is ranked fourth of the eight counties.
Washington County was a top rated county for child well being, and placed sixth in the KYA index. Meade County was seventh, and Hardin County was 19th.
Grayson County was the lowest rated county in the district at 80th.
Grieshop-Goodwin said KYA hopes the Kids Count data will lead to discussions among local leaders about what communities are doing well and what can be improved.
“What we hope communities do is use the numbers as a jump-off point for conversations on improvements for even stronger outcomes for children,” she said.