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Kentucky’s Kids Count report shows more children in foster care, but fewer released through reunification

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Breya Jones
/
WFPL

Kentucky’s 2022 Kids Count County Data Book highlights how the commonwealth has improved over the course of five years in areas affecting children. The data also shows where the state still has room for growth.

Standout trends from this year’s findings include an increased number of Kentucky children being placed into foster care, though the number of children leaving via reunification with families decreased.

Gun deaths among children 19 and younger increased by 83%, compared to a three-year time period ending in 2015.

Kids Count is a national program that compares states to each other in several metrics for education, economic stability, health and family and community.

Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA), which produces the Kids Count, distills that data down to a county-level understanding.

“It hopefully informs lawmakers in Frankfort, gives us a sense of broad trends,” KYA Executive Director Terry Brooks said.

More children are ending up in foster care, but fewer are being reunited with families

The number of children in foster care increased by 12%, compared to baseline data from 2014 to 2016. The number of children released from foster care by reunification decreased by 5%.

Brooks noted that the past three governors have worked on child reforms, but more must be done.

“I understand that if we had not been doing the reform we’d been doing, those numbers would actually be worse, but we can’t look at the trajectory and not know that we’ve got to double down on efforts to support vulnerable families,” Brooks said.

Brooks said he hopes state lawmakers will be able to agree on policy changes on issues related to child welfare. Without that, he worries more children will be separated from their families.

“That is a policy arena that we have seen common ground and common sense applied to,” Brooks said. “It really has been marked by a lack of partisanship.”

One metric in the community and family category that improved was the number of incarcerated youth, which fell nearly 13%.

Brooks attributed this decline to understanding that diversion works better than detention.

Improvements in economic situations

Childhood poverty also improved statewide, with decreases in the number of children living in poverty and low-income families.

According to data from 2015, 25.3% of children were living in poverty. Data from 2020 finds that has decreased to 19.4%. This disproportionately affects younger children and children of color.

In that same time period, children living in low-income families dropped from 48% to 44%.

Poverty rates improved in 116 of the 120 Kentucky counties.

Brooks said more should be done to make sure the positive trend doesn’t stop.

“As long as there are over 200,000 kids living in poverty in the commonwealth, we can’t celebrate at all,” Brooks said.

Brooks said addressing economic instability would help this metric.

Changes in other categories

In the health category, all statewide data either improved or stayed where it was in previous findings.

Rates for smoking during birth and teen pregnancy decreased statewide, though low birthweight babies and children under 19 with insurance remained the same as 2015.

In education, there was a very small increase of around 0.1% in high school students graduating on time. However, the percentage of children entering kindergarten ready to learn decreased.

KYA’s end goal for presenting the Kids Count data is to spur lawmakers and other state entities into action to make improvements.

“Now it’s up to us to come up with the strategies and then to act,” Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said at a news conference on Wednesday. “Without actions, all this is for naught.”

Coleman said she hopes there will be bipartisan support for initiatives related to childhood wellness outcomes.