Earlier this month, Kentucky Youth Advocates released its 2022 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book, featuring the latest data on 16 measures of child well-being, showing whether outcomes for children across the Commonwealth have improved, worsened, or stayed the same over a five-year period. While the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact many families in ways that do not yet show up in the data, the book identifies ongoing challenges and areas of needed improvement.

The book highlights statewide and county-level data and trends for four key indicators, including economic security, education, health, and family & community. Key indicators of interest to the Bounce Coalition are:

  • 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. Young children are more likely to experience poverty, especially young children of color due to historic and ongoing barriers to opportunities. With over one in four Kentucky kids under the age of five, it is important to make sure all children get a strong start.
  • 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. 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, while Lee County had the highest reunification rate at 63%.
  • 8,010 youth were incarcerated in 2019-21, which is nearly half the rate seen in 2014-16 (13.7 per 1,000 compared to 26.4 per 1,000). Perceptions that youth of color are older than their actual age, or are more culpable, contribute to young Black children having complaints filed against them at a higher rate compared to their White peers. Young children who get in trouble need responses and interventions that address the root causes of their behavior rather than being stuck in the traumatic juvenile justice system.

Unique to the County Data Book this year, Kentucky Youth Advocates invited young people from across the Commonwealth to share their hopes and concerns with us. The County Data Book’s opening essay and domain spreads feature their messages, including themes around:

  • Safety at school: 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.
  • 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. In 2020, 15.9% of Kentucky children and teens struggled with anxiety or depression.

As we continue to better understand the ways in which adverse community environments impact our ability to prevent and mitigate adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), we must continue to investigate areas in which Kentucky and its counties are making progress and areas needing focused attention and sensible solutions for improvement. Most importantly, we can and should look to our youth to help identify ways in which we can ensure a brighter future for all Kentucky children.