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Kids' well-being continues to lag in W.Va.

Feb. 06, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The numbers are in, and they aren't pretty.

The latest figures in a wide range of health and wellness indicators for children in West Virginia were released Tuesday in the 2012 KIDS COUNT data presented by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. The percentage of children living in poverty, percentage of births to unmarried teens and teen birth rate all worsened over previous years statewide, while improvements were shown in the child abuse/neglect rate and percentage of high school dropouts.

The numbers signified a slight bump in West Virginia's overall state ranking (from 44th in 2011 to 39th in 2012). But local counties Wayne and Cabell dropped from 36th and 38th, respectively, in 2011, to 46th and 44th in 2012.

Other counties of interest had state composite rankings of 29th for Mason, 45th for Logan and 48th for Lincoln. Locally, the county that indicated the best overall child well-being was Putnam County, which ranked third statewide.

In Cabell County, research results indicated that from 2005 to 2011, the following categories worsened: Infant mortality by 12 percent, child death rate by 50 percent, teen birth rate by 10 percent and the percentage of children in poverty by 35 percent. In Wayne County, the percent of births to unmarried teens worsened by 46 percent, though infant mortality, child death rate and children living in poverty all improved.

The focus of the 2012 West Virginia KIDS COUNT Data Book was on teen pregnancy, which had been decreasing in the state and the nation for decades. That took a turn between 2005 and 2009, when the state's teen birth rate increased and the gap between state and national figures widened, from 45 per thousand girls in West Virginia compared with 34 per thousand nationally. In 2010, the teen birth rates statewide and nationally did show a slight decrease. Currently, according to KIDS COUNT, West Virginia ranks 40th in the nation in births to teen mothers. The statewide teen birth rate fell in 2010, as did the national rate. West Virginia still ranks among the 10 worst states, with 45 births per 1,000 teens, compared to a national rate of 34.

"This is alarming because we know when teens get pregnant, they are much more likely to drop out of school, live in poverty and have babies who are less healthy," said Margie Hale, executive director of KIDS COUNT, in a press release issued with the data book. "It's up to all of us to work together to reverse the recent trend. One of the best ways we can do that is by fully implementing the state's comprehensive sex education curriculum, which uses evidence-based methods for reducing teen pregnancy."

While the state improved, the number of teenagers giving birth in McDowell County is soaring, jumping 34 percent in five years.

McDowell had a rate of 96 births per 1,000 girls in 2010, the latest figures available. That's 17 more births per 1,000 girls than the next-closest county, Mingo, and more than double the statewide rate.

McDowell's rate is also seven times higher than the county with the fewest teen births: In Monongalia, it's just 14 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

Hale says it's time for communities, parents and educators alike to ensure that a comprehensive sex-education curriculum approved and mandated by the state Department of Education in 2003 is actually being taught. She says there's no solid data to show that it is.

The program for fifth- through 12-graders is "fantastic," Hale said Monday, largely focusing on self-esteem, decision-making, what to expect from boys and how to say no, and how to avoid risky behaviors such as drug use. Birth control methods are just one component.

"But many schools are not implementing it because the teacher's not comfortable or the community doesn't want them to or the principal doesn't want them to," Hale said.

Though she can understand a teacher's reluctance to discuss sex, Hale says the state has specialists to help.

The state Department of Education provides a curriculum framework and health-education standards, but spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said it's up to counties and schools to decide how to implement the "services and environmental strategies" to achieve a comprehensive sex education.

Cordeiro could not say how many schools are using the state's curriculum, or whether McDowell County schools are among them.

McDowell Superintendent Nelson Spencer didn't comment.

The problem of teen births is now particularly acute in eight southern and central counties: McDowell, Mingo, Clay, Boone, Fayette, Calhoun, Mercer and Logan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

A look at the statistics

Statistics for child well-being released Tuesday by KIDS COUNT included these figures from neighboring counties. Figures are compared to the same numbers from 2005:

Infant mortality rate

(per 1,000 lives births)

Cabell: 12.2 percent worse

Wayne: 13.1 percent better

Putnam: 49 percent better

Lincoln: 79.1 percent better

Logan: 40.8 percent better

Mason: 189.2 percent worse

Child death rate

(ages 1-14 per 100,000 children)

Cabell: 50.3 percent worse

Wayne: 13.5 percent better

Putnam: 20.6 percent better

Lincoln: 24.2 percent better

Logan: 44.6 percent better

Mason: 52.4 percent worse

Teen birth rate

(ages 15-19 per 1,000 females)

Cabell: 9.6 percent worse

Wayne: 5.6 percent better

Putnam: 12.8 percent worse

Lincoln: 12.9 percent better

Logan: 22.8 percent worse

Mason: 6.8 percent better

Percent births to

unmarried teens

(ages 10-19)

Cabell: 2.3 percent worse

Wayne: 46.4 percent worse

Putnam: 21.1 percent worse

Lincoln: 15.5 percent worse

Logan: 39.2 percent worse

Mason: 25.8 percent worse

Percent children in poverty

Cabell: 34.7 percent worse

Wayne: 6.1 percent better

Putnam: 2.2 percent worse

Lincoln: 8.2 percent better

Logan: 15.2 percent better

Mason: 1.1 percent worse