Fewer children in Warren County are living in poverty and fewer live in food insecure households, according to the 2019 Kentucky Kids Count County Data Book.

The report, which Kentucky Youth Advocates released Tuesday, offers a county-by-county look at child well-being across Kentucky through 17 measures in the areas of health, education, economic security and family and community and whether they’ve improved over a five-year period.

Warren County’s data profile is available online with this story at bgdailynews.com.

Overall, this year’s release holds mixed results for Warren County.

For example, although Warren County had fewer children living in the deepest levels of poverty, it hasn’t made progress in reducing the number of children living in low-income households, defined as being below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The measure has flatlined in recent years. As many as 48 percent of Warren County children lived in low-income households during 2013-17, the same rate it was in 2008-12.

Across Kentucky, fewer children are living in poverty compared to 2012, with improved rates in 107 of the state’s 120 counties. Kentucky Youth Advocates said there’s been an improvement from more than 26 percent of Kentucky children to slightly more than 22 percent. Most of Kentucky’s counties are also seeing improved rates for child food insecurity.

Still, Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks said there’s been a “drought of targeted state policies that address poverty” in the state.

Brooks said checks on predatory lending practices and refundable state earned-income tax credits for families in need could make a dent.

“I think that would really accelerate economic well-being,” Brooks said.

There’s also work to do when it comes to reducing the number of children in foster care, a rate that continues to climb. Kentucky reached a record high rate of 47.3 per 1,000 children in 2016-2018, according to Kentucky Youth Advocates.

This year’s report includes a new indicator measuring the percentage of children who are reunited with their parent or primary caregiver when exiting foster care.

It’s moving in the wrong direction – only 36 percent of Kentucky children are reunifying.

Although there’s a “growing awareness” in Kentucky around child welfare issues, Brooks said, the problem may be more complex than stakeholders realize, with drug addiction and an over-representation of children of color in the foster care system as complicating factors.

Locally, the rates for children in foster care and children exiting foster care to reunite with their families have worsened since 2011.

In Warren County, the rate of children below age 17 in foster care was 66.9 per every 1,000 children. During 2011-13, that rate was 58.4 per 1,000 children.

Similarly, only 35 percent of children exiting foster care were reunited with their families between 2016-18, down from 42 percent in 2011-13.

Describing how Warren County fares compared to the state as a whole, Brooks said there’s a more “significant level” of children in foster care and fewer successful reunifications.

Education outcomes included in the report also painted a mixed picture.

Between 2018-19, both Warren County Public Schools and the Bowling Green Independent School District saw large numbers of incoming kindergarten students deemed unprepared to start their school careers. However, in both school districts, high school graduation rates were sky high, hovering around 97 percent.

Progress in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math were muddled. While Warren County Public Schools made gains in raising its proficiency rate in both metrics, the Bowling Green Independent School District did not.

In terms of health outcomes, Warren County generally made gains in the measures tracked by the report.

In recent years, more children have health insurance, and there were fewer low birth-weight babies in 2017. There were also fewer births to teenage mothers and a lower rate of women smoking while pregnant.

– The full report is available at kyyouth.org.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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