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Thumbs down: W.Va., Ky. rank on low end of childhood issues

Jun. 25, 2013 @ 11:25 PM

Each year, the national KIDS COUNT report provides a reminder of the disadvantages many of the children in our region face.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation pulls together a wide range of statistics to look at the well-being of children in each state. After several years of downward economic trends, the study for 2013 shows some recovery for children and families across the country.

West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio saw improvement in some areas as well, but overall our region is still doing poorly. The study ranks states in broad areas of child issues -- economics, education, health and family and community. Ohio is among the top half of states in health and education, but West Virginia and Kentucky are in the bottom half of states in all four areas.

An underlying problem for so many of these issues is, of course, poverty. The report shows about 26 percent of West Virginia children lived in households below the poverty level, the same as the previous year, and Kentucky's rate has increased to 27 percent.

West Virginia ranked a little higher in health this year, which considers low birth-weight babies, children without insurance, child and teen deaths and teen substance abuse. A bigger focus on access to insurance and prenatal care has helped there.

But the state ranked near the bottom in education, with low proficiency in math and reading and low high-school graduation rates. West Virginia also needs to work on early child development. Nearly two-thirds of the state's 3- and 4-year-olds were not enrolled in preschool programs in 2011, and that affects student performance in later years.

It is good to know that the state is planning a stronger focus on that front through the Early Childhood Planning Task Force, announced by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last month.

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