A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky Kids Count County Data Book gives insight into how lives of children and families can be improved

By Josie Shriver
NKyTribune reporter

The Kentucky Kids Count County Data Book, in its 30th year, provides the numbers behind the status of children and families in the Commonwealth, thanks to the Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Kentucky State Data Center.

KYA believes that “what gets measured gets changed,” and improving the status of children is their objective. The Kids Count data measures a number of issues. Here are some:

Click image to access the County Data Book


Of all the fears COVID-19 brought to our world, a different kind of fear fell on some households in Kentucky last year. Some worried about what would happen if they were to contract COVID-19 due to the lack of insurance coverage for themselves and their families.

Most residents rely on insurance through their employers, so with unemployment on the rise, the rates of those losing insurance also rose. In Kentucky, an estimated 6 percent of adults in households with children were uninsured during late June to late July, compared to 14 percent nationally.

Of the 996,000 children in Kentucky, 96.3 percent of children under 19 had health insurance as of 2018.

All three Northern Kentucky counties (Boone, Campbell and Kenton County) saw an increase in the number of children covered by health insurance. Of the 368,000 number of young adults, 89% were covered with health insurance as shown by data from 2014-2018. The Northern Kentucky counties were all above 90 percent for having young adults covered by health insurance.

Governor Andy Beshear addressed the disparities in chronic health conditions and access to health insurance by expanding the Medicaid program and opening Medicaid enrollment during the pandemic to buffer the effects of job lay-offs on health coverage.

Adult enrollment in Kentucky’s Medicaid program has increased by 10 percent, according to the Kids Count data.

Most Kentucky residents were insured due to the opening of this program at a time when health insurance coverage was most needed. Kentucky saw an 8,200% increase in the number of services billed to Medicaid and Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP). In 2019, 3,612 services were billed compared to the 298,652 in 2020.

Mental health

Not only did COVID-19 bring about physical illness, it also brought an increase in anxiety and depression among residents. Among households with children, more than a third of respondents reported feeling anxious during more than half of the past week, and more than one in four reported feeling depressed. Those numbers were reported to be even higher in households that had lost their employment income and were not working.

From the County Data book

Food and hunger

Another area hit hard during the pandemic were the meals students were provided at school. With the closure of schools, a lot of families who relied on those meals for their children were scrambling to put food on the table.

The data showed that among Kentucky households with children that did not have enough food to eat, 83 percent of families reported receiving free food or groceries from a school or other program aimed at children, compared to 63 percent of families nationally.

Having adequate food for children is essential to a child’s health and development, so federal action was essential in order to ensure that Kentucky students were properly fed. Pandemic EBT was critical in providing families with money to grocery shop for food, providing food for families in both urban and rural districts when a family couldn’t pick up meals from school due to work or lack of transportation, or their district did not provide meals.

In Boone County 10.5% of children are living in food insecure households; in Campbell County, 13% and in Kenton 14.2%.

Healthy babies and teen births

Kentucky’s percentage for low-birthweight babies worsened to 8.9 percent of babies being low-birthweight in 2016-2018 data. Boone and Campbell counties showed improvement in lowering their percentage of low-birthweight babies while Kenton County’s percentage increased.

Overall, Kentucky’s teen births rate has lowered to 28.2 percent. Each of the Northern Kentucky counties have lowered their percentage of teen births to all fall under 25 percent.

Tobacco use

Kentucky has really focused on controlling tobacco use, specifically in the youth. With COVID-19 attacking the respiratory system, youth who use e-cigarettes products are up to 7 times more likely to get COVID-19 than non-e-cigarette users.

Smoking during pregnancy in Kentucky has seen an improvement since the 2011-2013 data. As of 2016-2018 data, Kentucky fell at 17.8 percent of those smoking during pregnancy. Northern Kentucky counties did better with each county falling under 20 percent.

One of KYA’s priorities is to expand local control to curb tobacco use among youth. While the use of cigarettes has gone down, the rapid use of the popular e-cigarette increased. Smoking itself directly “causes 8,900 deaths and leads to more than $1.9 billion in health care costs.” KYA’s Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children wants to “allow city and county governments the option to regulate the use, display, sale and distribution of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes” in hopes of lowering tobacco usage in the youth demographic.

Kentucky Youth Advocates surveyed middle and high school students in November and December 2020 to gauge their beliefs around tobacco use among youth and how recent policies have impacted youth tobacco use.”

There were three key findings:

• The first that Kentucky must invest in tobacco prevention and cessation programming, specifically focusing on e-cigarettes.

• The second that “youth believed there has been an increase in tobacco use due to the COVID-19 pandemic…” This could be for a number of reasons including stress and change of environment.

• The third finding showed that students “support giving local cities and counties the option to pass laws that reduce tobacco use.”

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