Four area counties ranked in bottom half of 114 analyzed
SIKESTON -- Southeast Missouri counties continue to score poorly in the overall rankings of children's health, according to the latest Kids Count report.
Despite showing improvements last year, Scott County increased in overall state rankings from 83rd worst county to 91st; New Madrid went from 103 to 110; and Mississippi County from 98 to 106. Stoddard County improved its overall ranking from 111th worst to 108th.
The annual Kid's Count report, which is published by Citizens for Missouri's Children, analyzes children's health and well-being in Missouri's 114 counties and the city of St. Louis. This year's results are based on 2006 data.
For the second year in a row, St. Charles County, a St. Louis suburb, was ranked as the most kid-friendly area. Platte County near Kansas City was second followed by Nodaway, Clay and Andrew Counties.
The city of St. Louis again ranked last with Pemiscot, Dunklin, McDonald and Ripley Counties rounding out the bottom five.
"I don't think it's all bad news this year," said Tom Vansaghi, board member and public policy committee chair for Citizens for Missouri's Children. "Kids fared the same as they did in 2006. We've seen some scores go up in areas and down in others. We continue to put these issues out in the public and raise the height of consciousness."
Helping children locally translates into community citizens looking at the world through the eyes of children, Vansaghi said.
The report uses 10 indicators of child welfare to assess how children in the state are faring. Statewide child abuse and neglect decreased by 11 percent between 2002 and 2006 and the rate of violent teen deaths decreased by 6.1 per 1,000 teens.
Indicators showing declines both statewide and locally were the number of children enrolled in free and reduced priced lunches and births to teens.
About 54 percent of students in Scott County were enrolled in free and reduced price lunch. In New Madrid County, 64 percent were eligible and about 67 percent in Mississippi County. The state rate is 40.7 percent.
However, in Stoddard County 34 percent of students were eligible for free and reduced lunches-- down from 51 percent in 2002.
From 2002 to 2006, the rate of births to teen mothers in Scott County rose from 63.6 to 78.6; in New Madrid County from 59.7 to 84.1; in Mississippi County from 86.1 to 118; and in Stoddard County from 46.1 to 58.2.
Barry Cook, Scott County Health Department administrator, said the rankings fluctuate so much from year to year, but the numbers are never a surprise, Cook said.
"A huge part of it (the declines) gets back to personal responsibility," Cook said.
Cook said he was disappointed by the county's increase in the number of births to teens and also births to mothers without high school diplomas and births to teens, especially since the county has a very large family planning program.
"Several of the numbers were actually pretty good. A lot of these things are tied to economics," Cook said referring to the county's decrease in the rate of low birthweight infants, child abuse and neglect and high school dropouts.
Tonya Carruth, executive director of New Madrid County Family Resource Center in New Madrid, said she thinks most of the reasoning behind the Bootheel's poor scores is due to the lack of industry, or employment opportunities, in this region.
"We at the resource center try to help people find jobs, and it's really hard," Carruth said.
Transportation is a huge issue in the surrounding counties, Carruth noted. "We try to find ways to help with transportation because if they don't have a job, they can't afford a car. Then if they get a job, they end up quitting because they can't get there. A lot of people here have incentive, but when the struggle is so hard, it's hard to get out of it," said Carruth, who is also an advisory committee member for Kids Count.
And the cycle continues.
"When there's a lack of jobs and transportation, they don't have a lot to do so we have more babies -- more teen pregnancies," Carruth said.
At the Family Resource, staff have noticed more teens having their second and third child, Carruth said.
"Children are still having children. When they get the three children and are 19 or 20 years old, they have created such a big obstacle. Everything, from that point on, is hard to overcome," Carruth said.
Carruth said she thinks local citizens are concerned, but there's a lot of work to do.
"We can't tell you why these numbers increase or decrease," said Munnie Pacino, Citizens for Missouri's Children board president. "What we would hope is that people who are really concerned about children's welfare would become active in terms of making changes -- whether it's in their own communities or working through Citizens for Missouri's Children with the advocates for the legislature."
For Kids Count information about a specific county, visit www.mokids.org.