Boone County ranks near the bottom on social services for children, according to the annual Kids Count Data Book, which profiles child well-being.
Boone County ranked 49th out of 55 counties, only ahead of Wyoming (50th), Mercer (51st), Lincoln (52nd), Summers (53rd), Mingo (54th), and McDowell (55th).
The ranking is based on 12 indicators: how many babies born with low birth weights, the infant mortality rate, the child death rate, percent of 4-year-olds in school, subsidized school lunches, the child abuse rate, births to teens, births to unmarried teens, percent of high school dropouts, teen injury rates, children in poverty, and births to mothers without a high school diploma.
Nationally, West Virginia ranked 37th, which was better than 13 other states.
Over the last seven years, the state has improved in seven of those categories, most notably in reducing high school dropouts (a 33 percent improvement) and the child abuse rate (down 31 percent).
Teen births are up 4.5 percent and poverty is up slightly, according to the data.
The data shows that 18 percent of children are born to mothers who have not graduated from high school, which is lower than the national average of 21 percent.
A Charleston Daily Mail editorial looked at the rankings and showed the best thing a parent can do for his or her child is to get a job. The fastest growing counties in the state — Monongalia, Putnam, Jefferson and Berkeley counties — all ranked in the top 10 with Monongalia leading the pack.
“They are where the jobs are,” the editorial stated.
At the bottom of the list was McDowell County.
Monongalia’s poverty rate for children is 16.8 percent, the state’s is 26.1 percent, and McDowell’s is 45.8 percent, the data showed.
“But parents can overcome poverty,” the editorial went on to say. “After all, West Virginia ranks 49th in income, but is 37th in taking care of its children. We are doing something right. Let us build upon that.”
The report showed that Boone County improved in percent of low birth-weight babies, improvement in child abuse and neglect rates, improvement in percentage of high school drop outs, teen injury death rate, the percentage of children living in poverty and a 62 percent improvement in the percentage of four-year-olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten.
Boone saw decreases in its infant mortality rates, child death rates, percent of children approved for free and reduced-price school meals, teen birth rate, percentage of births to unmarried teens and percent of births to mothers with less than a 12th grade education.
Boone County also saw an 83.3 percent drop in the number of registered family day care homes and a 66.7 percent drop in the number of licensed childcare centers from 2005 to 2013. However, the percent of eligible children served by Head Start (ages 3-4) jumped up 8.6 percent from 2005 to 2013, the report indicated.
The county’s total population dropped 4.8 percent from 25,703 in 2005 to 24,478 in 2012, according to the report.
“We are beginning our 24th year of advocacy for the policy initiatives that will , once and forever, make our state a decidedly great place to be a kid,” said Margie Hale, Executive Director of Kids Count.
Hale said one of the most important ways the data book can be used is as a toll for selecting children’s issues that need our attention.
“Last year, instead of a traditional long-form essay about a key policy issue, we produced a short, compelling ‘infographic’ to tell the story of teen pregnancy in West Virginia,” she said in the report. “It outlined solutions for reducing the state’s alarming teen pregnancy rate, particularly in the southern part of the state.”
Hales was among the first child advocates to testify at the inaugural meeting of the West Virginia Senate’s Select Committee on Child Poverty.
“Every child born in West Virginia deserves the best possible start in life,” says Hale. “From the moment they are born, children’s brains are being wired for success in school and life. It’s no exaggeration to say their future and ours depend on their getting a great start. That’s why we must commit today to the public investments we know will reap big rewards tomorrow: dramatically improving the quality of and expanding access to childcare and pre-school programs. One of the best ways to do that is by finally funding the Childcare Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). KIDS COUNT helped to get the QRIS passed into law in 2009, but the program has never been implemented. We must also look at expanding our Pre-K program to include all three-year-olds. We’ve left the future of West Virginia’s youngest children hanging long enough. The time to invest in them is now.”
“The Big Payoff” highlights three public investments that will bring high returns for the state and its children:
1. Support parents, for instance through programs that coach those who want help, so they can successfully care for their children;
2. Increase access to high-quality programs for young children, particularly those from low-income families; and
3. Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems that address all aspects of early child development.
“Kids Count continues to have a very small, but very dedicated staff who share the organization’s commitment to making West Virginia a great place to be a kid,” Hale said.
To learn more about the organization’s mission, history and programs, go to www.wvkidscount.org