Health

Jefferson County, Kentucky’s kids are doing better on several measures than they did in previous years but are losing ground in other indicators, according to the annual Kids Count County Data Books from Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The latest data suggests fewer Jefferson County kids are living in poverty, incarcerated in the juvenile justice system or without health insurance. But the rate of kids living with people other than their parents and of babies born with low-birth weights continues to rise.

The average newborn weighs about 8 pounds. Babies are considered to have low-birth weight when they are born weighing below 5 pounds, 8 ounces. In Jefferson County between 2014 and 2016, 9.3 percent of babies were born with low-birth weight. That’s compared to a nationwide rate of 8.1 percent, and is an increase from the county’s previous rate of 9.2 percent between 2009 and 2011.

Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks said one of the leading causes of low-birth weight is smoking while pregnant. In Jefferson County between 2014 and 2016, 10 percent of pregnant women smoked, which is a decrease from the previous rate of 13.1 percent between 2009 and 2011.

“We know that the major causal factor of low-birth weight babies is smoking during pregnancy,” Brooks said. “And so it mystifies us again, on a Jefferson County basis, on our regional basis, on a state basis, that continues to be an issue.”

Statewide, 18.1 percent of pregnant women smoked between 2014 and 2016, down from 21.3 percent between 2009 and 2011.

“It’s easy for me to say, ‘well, you shouldn’t smoke during pregnancy,’” Brooks said. “Maybe there are cessation support efforts that could be done at the local level where when you find out you’re pregnant, we bring resources and opportunities and forces to bear to help that pregnant [woman] quit smoking in an immediate fashion.”

Other contributing factors to low-birth weight include using illicit drugs or alcohol while pregnant. Low income is linked to inadequate prenatal care and pregnancy complications, which can also contribute to low birth weight. In 2016, 21 percent of children in Jefferson County lived in poverty.

Other Findings

Kids Count also shows a rise in the number of Kentucky kids who live in out-of-home care due to parents dealing with addiction issues. Out-of-home care includes foster care, placement with a relative, and group homes.

Statewide, Kentucky has the nation’s highest rate of kids living with relatives. Within Kentucky, Jefferson County kids fare better than some in other counties, but that number, too, is increasing. Nearly 30.2 percent out of every 1,000 kids in Jefferson County were living outside the home due to abuse or neglect between 2015 and 2017. A few years ago, between 2011 and 2013, it was about 25 out of every 1,000 kids in that age group.

The rates of kids living outside the home worsened in many Kentucky counties. Other counties with the lowest rates in this metric included Jessamine, Hopkins and Henderson counties. The counties with the highest rates included Graves, Edmonson and Elliott.

“We know that taking kids and putting them in out-of-home care is a lose-lose situation,” Brooks said. “We also know it’s a budget buster. Kentucky as a state really is silhouetted as a place where more and more kids are in out-of-home care.”

Brooks also said the passage of Kentucky House Bill 1 earlier this year was a step in the right direction to reuniting kids with parents when possible. One of the components of the measure was advanced notification to foster parents before a child in their care moves to another placement. Another component is a change in procedures and requirements for kids to be reunited with parents or other family caregivers faster.

Other findings from Jefferson County’s 2018 Kids Count Data Book:

  • The number of children living in deep poverty – (50 percent of the federal poverty level) went down slightly in Jefferson County – from 12 percent between 2007 and 2011, down to 11 percent between 2012 and 2016.
  • The number of children living in low-income families (defined as 200 percent of the federal poverty level) held steady at a 45 percent average in Jefferson County between 2007 and 2016.
  • The number of kids that didn’t have steady access to food at home went from 18 percent in 2011 to 16.8 percent in 2016 in Jefferson County. The number of kids in Kentucky considered to be food insecure went from 22.4 percent in 2011, to 19.2 percent in 2016.
Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.