Kentucky Post, November 9, 2007: Children in poverty

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Income levels in Northern Kentucky are going up, but so is poverty. The birth rate among teens is down, but the accidental death rate among children is up.

The numbers are part of the annual Kentucky Youth Advocates’ Kids Count report that tracks health, safety and economic trends that affect children in the state. The report is being released today, and it holds some surprises.

Last year, the report showed the number of low-income children getting dental care was low but improving.


This year, that has turned around, with even fewer children getting care, and that problem is nowhere worse in the commonwealth than in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

Boone County Human Services Director Kirk Kavanaugh calls the report a wake-up call.

“These numbers are shocking,” he said.

The value of the Kids Count report is that it helps to identify trends. Low numbers that are improving are positive indicators, even if the numbers continue to be low. Numbers that are falling are a different story, said Kavanaugh. “It shows something’s going wrong.”

The report is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s national effort to track child well-being. Funding comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Metro United Way, PNC Bank and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.

The report tracks 47 indicators relating to family and community, health, economic well-being, education and safety.

Kentucky showed more improvement than decline, including more children graduating from high school, more child support being collected, and fewer teens giving birth, said Kentucky Youth Advocates spokeswoman Tara Grieshop-Goodwin. But areas showing problems are serious, including higher poverty levels, more child abuse or neglect and more accidental child deaths.

The percentage of children living in poverty in the state went from 21 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2004, a slight increase. In Northern Kentucky, the trend was more pronounced.

In 2000, 7 percent of Boone County children were living in poverty. In 2004, the number had jumped to 10 percent. The jump was even steeper in Kenton County, from 12 to 16 percent. And in Campbell County, the rate rose from 12 to 14 percent.

The poverty threshold for 2004 was an annual income of $19,157 for a family of four with two children.

That contrasts with the median income, which rose from $33,672 in the state in 2000 to $37,046 in 2004.

In Boone County, the median income jumped from $53,593 in 2000 to $58,749 in 2004. Campbell County went from $41,903 in 2000 to $44,639 in 2004. Kenton County went from $43,906 in 2000 to $47,729 in 2004.

“Gaps might be widening between those living in poverty and those not living in poverty,” said Makeda Harris, health policy analyst for Kentucky Youth Advocates.

“The data is extremely powerful in telling the story of what is going on and in influencing policy. It’s only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s an important piece.”

Kavanaugh said he used the data in last year’s Kids Count report to support efforts to improve dental care in the region. That report showed only 35 percent of Boone County children who are eligible for Medicaid or KCHIP – the state and federal health insurance programs for low income families – had received any dental care in 2005. That number was up from 29 percent in 2003, but it still represented a crisis for the 65 percent of eligible children who were not receiving care, Kavanaugh said.

This year’s report showed that only 25 percent of poor children in Boone County had received any dental care in 2006.

“That means 75 percent of eligible children are not getting any dental care,” Kavanaugh said.

Kenton County also backslid on gains it had made in that category. Its number, which went from 28 percent in 2003 to 31 percent in 2005, dropped to 25 percent in 2006.

And the situation was even more dire in Campbell County, where the number went from 31 percent in 2003 to 34 percent in 2005 to 22 percent in 2006. That ranked last in Kentucky.

“That’s horrendous,” Kavanaugh said. “We pride ourselves in Northern Kentucky that we are on the cutting edge, but we’re not, as least in this area. And something needs to change.”

Some of that change already is in the works. HealthPoint, the Children Inc. child care agency and the Northern Kentucky Independent health Department launched the Northern Kentucky Oral Health Initiative about two years ago, sending professionals to schools to put protective sealant on children’s teeth and working to educate parents about the importance of brushing the teeth of very young children.

This spring, HealthPoint launched a dental van that goes to schools with a high percentage of low income children and offers free dental care.

“It’s making a dent, but we’re not kidding ourselves that this is going to be a silver bullet,” said Chris Goddard, CEO of HealthPoint, a nonprofit that focuses much of its work on providing care for low-income families.

HealthPoint also has expanded its on-site dentistry program.

“The reality is it is just a drop in the bucket, with the need,” said Goddard.

He said many dentists have stopped accepting Medicaid and KCHIP patients because of the relatively low reimbursement levels for those program. Kavanaugh said many low-income patients don’t show up for scheduled appointments, exacerbating the problem.

Kavanaugh, who is on the dental advisory committee for Boone County’s Success by 6 program, said he has spent the past year immersed in addressing the dental care problem for children, working with Goddard and other advocates.

Among solutions they are exploring is offering a cash or gift card incentive to parents to take their children to the dentist.

A relatively small incentive for the first few visits would more than pay for itself, he said. “When young children don’t get dental care, it only gets more expensive later. Poor dental care can affect learning, health, family life,” Kavanaugh said.

The Kids Count report makes it clear that the need is even more urgent.

“We can’t keep looking at this statistic,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s not going to get better unless we do something.”

Makhi Stewart, 4, has his height recorded by nurse Lois McCubbin. The HealthPoint Family Care center in Covington treats adults and children at its 12th and Greenup clinic.


Zoom Photo

Makhi Stewart, 4, has his height recorded by nurse Lois McCubbin. The HealthPoint Family Care center in Covington treats adults and children at its 12th and Greenup clinic.

Legislative recommendations

Kentucky Youth Advocates has identified several health policy issues that it wants the state legislature to consider:

— Implement a state earned income tax credit to help low-income families.

— Explore expanding student loan forgiveness programs to encourage dentists to treat children on the Medicaid and KCHIP programs, which have lower reimbursements rates.

— Energize the state outreach program to encourage more eligible families to sign up for the KCHIP program and other benefits. Many eligible families are not enrolled, officials say.

— Break down administrative barriers that can make it difficult to enroll in programs, including eliminating the face-to-face interview requirement.

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