(07/29/2005)
Children are not doing well in West Virginia.

WV received its worst ranking ever in an annual survey of the well-being of children across the USA.

The state's kids have been the fourth highest in the nation for poverty - one in four children.

Children living in poverty in Calhoun County is worse than the state average. After several years of improvement it has unfortunately increased, slowly climbing up to 33% in 2002.

The state ranks 47th out of 50 states in the 2005 Kids Count Data Book, rating the overall well-being of children.

Only Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama fared worse in the national study, which was released yesterday.

"It is the worst ranking ever for West Virginia," said Margie Hale, executive director of the West Virginia Kids Count Fund.

Nearly one in ten WV children lived in a house where no adult was working. In Calhoun, that number would be higher.

Teenagers in West Virginia were more likely to die from accidents, homicide or suicide in West Virginia than any other state, according to the report.

That death rate for 15-to-19-year-olds almost doubled between 1997 and 2002, from 57 to 103 teenagers per 100,000.

The Kids Count report had been showing progress in the last decade, but now the state is backsliding in lots of areas, from infant mortality to high school dropout rate.

Hale says it's a scary signal, but she does not know if it is a trend, saying "The most depressing statistic is the increasing number of children nationwide living with families struggling with chronic unemployment."

"West Virginia parents value hard work and want to provide a better life for their children. Unfortunately, those who struggle with barriers, such as domestic abuse and depression, are having a hard time finding jobs and meeting their children's financial needs," said Hale.

In 2003, approximately 30,000 West Virginia children, or 8 percent, live in low-income households where no adult worked in the past year. In 2003, 5 percent of children nationwide were living without an employed adult.

The state did improve in four out of 10 measures that reflect child well-being, saw no change in one, and experienced setbacks in five measures since 2000.

"Every child in West Virginia deserves a fair shot at a successful future," added Hale. "We still have a long way to go to meet this responsibility to children. However, research clearly shows if we invest heavily in early education, we will make dramatic improvements in the quality of our children's lives and, ultimately, the economic prosperity of our state."

While the national high school dropout rate improved dramatically, West Virginia saw its rate increase from 8 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2003, ranking 39th. Nationwide, 8 percent of teens ages 16-19 were high school dropouts in 2003.

There was some good news in the national report of child well-being. West Virginia's child death rate has dropped dramatically. In 2002, West Virginia saw 24 deaths per 100,000 children ages 1-14, down from 30 per 100,000 in 2000. This 20 percent decrease represents West Virginia's greatest improvement on any measure since 2000.

Kids Count is West Virginia's most trusted source of information about the well-being of children and a leader in the effort to educate parents, policymakers and the public about what children need to thrive and achieve.

Kids Count's current focus is a statewide effort to address the literacy needs of West Virginia's youngest children.

Kids Count's members include the state's most respected business, community and religious leaders.

For more information, visit the organization's web site at www.wvkidscountfund.org


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