|LOCAL-REGIONAL COUNTY KIDS COUNT RESULTS WILL FOLLOW|
Lori Kersey/Charleston Gazette-Mail
The well-being of West Virginia children has generally improved but kids here still fare worse than most, according to an analysis released Wednesday by a national child advocacy group.
The state ranks 40th for child well-being, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The state's ranking is up from 43 last year, said Tricia Kingery, executive director of West Virginia KIDS Count.
Kingery said the state's 39 ranking three years ago was its highest within the last 10 years.
The rankings use 16 indicators of health, education, economic well-being and family and community as an assessment of child well-being.
It uses information from the U.S. Census, the state Department of Education, the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the state Oral Health Coalition, the West Virginia Perinatal Partnership and other agencies, Kingery said.
The state's ranking for economic well-being for children dropped from 42 to 47 between this year and last, something Kingery said was alarming but not surprising.
She said the state's poverty is a big factor in its health ranking, which is 35th this year.
"I think they're tied together, there's no question," she said. "Basically children who grow up in economically stable environments have better outcomes in the long run. They have a better life. Poverty is tied quite frankly to everything."
The state had also had low marks for its percentage of low birth-weight babies, which was 9.6 percent compared to the national average of 8.2 percent, Kingery said.
A bright spot among the health indicators was the low number of children in West Virginia who don't have health insurance. Two percent of children in West Virginia are uninsured, compared to 3 percent in last year's data book, she said.
Kingery said the success of getting children on health insurance is thanks in large part to former Sen. Jay Rockafeller, who helped establish the Child Health Insurance Program, and the efforts to get children and families signed up over the past 20 years.
The state ranked 39th for education. It saw some improvements in reading and math proficiency for students, but is below national averages, according to the data book.
Kingery said the Annie E. Casey Foundation is nationally emphasizing the possibility that children will be undercounted in the 2020 census.
Poverty can be a contributor to children not being counted, she said. Children living in apartment complexes, or with multi-generational families or moving from home to home can result in being missed on the census. It's also a challenge to accurately count people in families where the head of the household doesn't have a high school diploma, she said.
"Typically it's a challenge to get them to complete the survey," she said. Concerns of confidentiality and identity theft also contribute to kids not being counted, she said.
Kingery said what's at stake with undercounting children is federal funding for programs, political representation and research and advocacy.