KENTUCKY (WEHT) – Officials say the 2022 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book has the latest data on 16 measures of child well-being, showing whether outcomes for children across Kentucky have improved, worsened, or stayed the same over a five-year period.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, says, “Fourteen-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.”

Kentucky Youth Advocates invited young people throughout Kentucky to share their hopes and concerns. The following themes formed from the survey:

  • Safety at school
    • 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.
  • Safe and connected community spaces
    • “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.
  • More support for mental health and connections to caring adults
    • 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.
  • Education as a pathway to opportunity
    • “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.

The book highlights data in four domains: economic security, education, health, and family and community. Several child well-being data highlights from the 2022 County Data Book 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, which is underscored by declining rates in 124 of 170 school districts with available data.
  • Rates of smoking during pregnancy continue to decline with 103 counties out of 120 showing progress, yet nearly 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 statewide.
    • Similarly, the percentage of children exiting foster care to reunification with their parents or caregivers declined, in which nine counties had a rate lower than 20% of children being reunited.   
  • 8,010 youth were incarcerated in 2019-21, which is nearly half the rate seen in 2014 through 2016.

For 32 years, the data book has allowed people to investigate areas in which Kentucky and its counties are making progress and areas needing focused attention for improvement.