Caldwell County rated below average in protecting and providing for its children, according to a new analysis of childhood experience by county.
The report by the nonprofit group Save the Children analyzed data from more than 2,600 counties across the United States. Mark Shriver, Save the Children’s senior vice president for U.S. programs and advocacy, said Kentucky has made strides in improving its infant mortality rate, among other factors.
“One of the other indicators that moves Kentucky up,” he said, “is that Kentucky is fourth in the nation for on-time graduation.”
Caldwell County ranked 77th of 113 Kentucky counties rated by the study. The analysis looked at infant mortality, child hunger, child poverty, graduation rates, teen pregnancy and COVID-19 vulnerability.
Of the individual areas, only 10 counties had a higher mortality rate among children under 18 when measured against the local rate of 84.9 childhood deaths per 100,000 people.
Caldwell County also ranked poorly for the rates of teen pregnancy (41.7 per 100,000 population) and childhood poverty (26.6%). The percentage of high school dropouts (5.7%), though, was below the state average, and the childhood hunger rate (18.4%) was on par with the statewide percentage.
The coronavirus vulnerability score of 0.5 was also average. The score reflects the degree of vulnerability to stresses on human health caused by outbreaks like COVID-19 and range from a low of 0.0 to a high of 1.0.
Meantime, Oldham County near Louisville is one of the wealthiest in the state and rated third best in the nation.
Shriver said stark disparities remain in much of the state. Across Kentucky, 18.4% of children are food-insecure, compared with only 12% in Oldham County.
Overall, Caldwell County ranked above neighboring Christian (90) and Webster (110) counties, but below Hopkins (40) and Trigg (38) counties. Crittenden and Lyon counties were among seven Kentucky counties that did not have an overall ranking due to incomplete data.
While the figures in the report were collected before the coronavirus pandemic, Shriver said children in disadvantaged communities likely are being hardest hit by the crisis.
“We need, as citizens, to demand that we invest in our children, or else we’re going to see these systems of racial and economic injustice persist.”
The report’s findings underscore how racial and economic divides limit opportunities for children of color and for those living in rural communities. Shriver said those differences are magnified when seen at the county level.
“And you see that 30% of the bottom-ranked counties are majority black, despite the fact that they account for 3% of U.S. counties,” he said, “and almost 30% of bottom-ranked counties are majority Native American.”
The report’s authors said the data indicate states that spend more on children, and prioritize legislation to improve conditions for families, tend to have better outcomes and rank higher than states where political leaders aren’t making kids a priority.
Kentucky ranked 28th among the 50 states.
The report is online at SaveTheChildren.org.
Kentucky News Connection and The Times Leader contributed to this story.