Lexington Herald-Leader, April 3, 2008: Life often harsh for Ky. children

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By Halimah Abdullah

Kentucky has some of the nation’s highest rates of child poverty, child abuse deaths and deaths of teens between ages 15 and 19, according to a new report.

Kentucky teen-agers are twice as likely as young adults from Hawaii to die before the age of 20. Hawaii has the lowest number of deaths per 100,000 in that age group.

Though Kentucky ranked 33rd out of the 50 states surveyed in the report’s assessment of the overall well-being of children, the disparities between the quality of life for the state’s children and their peers in other parts of the country is stark.

Children in Kentucky are twice as likely as those from Maryland or New Hampshire to live in poverty, according to the report from a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group, the Every Child Matters Education Fund. And Kentucky children of all ages are nearly seven times as likely as their peers in Delaware, Idaho, North Dakota and Vermont to die as a result of child abuse.

Overall, the state ranked in the bottom 10 states in three out of 10 measures of child welfare.

The reasons states such as Kentucky lag others on national indicators of child well-being are complicated, said Michael Petit, author of the report, Geography Matters; Child Well-Being in the States, and the founder of the organization.

States that ranked low in the report tend to have much higher poverty rates and higher proportions of minority children living in poverty. According to the Census Bureau, nearly a third of Kentucky’s children live in poverty, and in 2006 the state tied with Oklahoma as the seventh poorest in the country.

Poorer states also have lower levels of educational attainment, a narrower view of the role of government in addressing social issues and generally tax themselves at much lower rates, leaving them without the revenue needed to make adequate investments in children, Petit said.

However, Kentucky ranked among the top 10 states in child welfare expenditures and fell among the middle of the pack in terms of overall tax burden.

Petit said weakened federal initiatives and budget cuts to programs across the country to address issues such as health care, child abuse and poverty have eroded the quality of children’s lives.

The report analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. Justice Department and the Census Bureau.

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