SIKESTON -- Surrounding counties showed signs of improvement in the overall state rankings of children's health, according to the latest Kids Count report.
Three of the area's counties -- Scott, New Madrid and Mississippi -- fared better in their overall rankings from the previous year. Scott County dropped from 87th worst county to 83rd; New Madrid went from 112 to 103; and Mississippi County from 107 to 98.
"Folks in the local communities have identified what some of the issues are and have taken steps to address those," said Catherine Martarella, program director of Citizens for Missouri's Children.
Stoddard County didn't measure as well, increasing in its ranking from 108 to 111, making it one of the bottom five counties in the state.
The annual Kids 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. It's based on 2005 data.
St. Charles County near St. Louis was ranked No. 1 on the list as the most kid-friendly county in the state. Platte County near Kansas City was second, and three counties in Northwest Missouri rounded out the top five.
St. Louis City again ranked last on the rankings with Pemiscot, Dunklin, McDonald and Stoddard counties ranking as the top five worst counties.
Following with the statewide trend, all four of the region's counties showed increases in the number of students enrolled in free/reduced lunch and an increase in the number of low birthweight infants.
Missouri also declined in the category of infant mortality, both factors historically linked to higher poverty status.
"Although there appear to be fewer children living in poverty, more children are receiving food stamps and free and reduced lunch, which are primary indicators of a family's poverty status," said Beth Griffin, executive director of Citizens for Missouri's Children in a news release. "More and more families need assistance to provide their children with the basics."
Nearly 42 percent of Missouri elementary and secondary students were enrolled in the free/reduced price school lunch program (for poor children), up from 37 percent in 2001.
About 52 percent of students in Scott County were eligible for free and reduced price lunch in 2005. In New Madrid County, 66 percent were eligible, and 68 percent in Mississippi County.
On the other hand, Mississippi County improved in seven of the 10 primary indicators of child welfare in 2005.
"We're really thrilled the ranking has gone down, and some of the numbers have been cut in half," said Melanie Glaus, administrator of the Mississippi County Health Department.
In the Mississippi County, births to mothers without a high school diploma dropped from 72 in 2001 to 57 in 2005. Births to teens also fell from 51 in 2001 to 32 in 2005.
About five years ago, the health department began going into East Prairie and Charleston schools to present a 14-session sexual awareness program to seventh and eighth graders throughout the school year, said Rachelle Johnson, registered dietitian and maternal child health coordinator for the county.
"We're hoping what we're doing is improving the teen pregnancy rate, and we're hoping this stays with them through high school," Johnson said.
The infant mortality rate in Mississippi County dropped from 11 in 2001 to five in 2005; the child abuse and neglect incidents dropped from 204 to 141. Glaus credited the county's Home Visitation Project for the decrease. The program, which targets teen mothers, contains case worker who conducts monthly home visits to girls who are pregnant, she said.
"It's a pretty intense program. We actually started the program in 2001, and the statistics are just now coming out. They're showing improvements," Glaus said.
In Scott County, the number of child abuse and neglect cases dropped in addition to child deaths, out-of-home placement entries and high school dropouts.
"The good news is we have gone down in the overall ranking for three years in a row, and any improvement is good," said Barry Cook, administrator of Scott County Health Department.
But there is still room for improvement. According to the annual report, 156 babies were born to mothers without a high school diploma and 98 births to teens ages 15-19 occurred in 2005 in Scott County. The infant mortality rate was up from 27 in 2001 to 32 in 2005, which Cook credited to loss of funds from the state to continue a program that offered home visits and one-on-
In New Madrid County, the infant mortality rate improved as did the number of child deaths, high school dropouts and violent deaths to those ages 15-19.
But not showing improvement in the county were the number of births to mothers without high school diplomas, births to teens and child abuse and neglect cases.
Meanwhile, Martarella said she thinks counties are using the annual data to their advantage.
"I get a lot of calls from direct service providers for grant purposes to demonstrate the county has a need," Martarella said. "Lots of groups across the state use the data to justify the needs of their programs."
The counties are ranked in order with 1 being the best and 115 the worst.
2006 Composite Rank: 83
2005 Composite Rank: 87
2004 Composite Rank: 94
Free & Reduced Price Lunch: 81
Moms Without High School Diplomas: 75
Low Birth Weight: 104
Infant mortality: 95
Child Death: 79
Child Abuse & Neglect: 42
Out-of-Home Placements: 47
|Drop outs: 13|
Teen births: 99
Teen Violent Deaths: 22
|NEW MADRID COUNTY 2006 Composite Rank: 103|
2005 Composite Rank: 112
2004 Composite Rank: 108
Free & Reduced Price Lunch: 107
Moms Without High School Diplomas: 96
Low Birth Weight: 112
Infant mortality: 71
Child Death: 26
Child Abuse & Neglect: 56
Out-of-Home Placements: 68
Drop outs: 74
Teen births: 111
Teen Violent Deaths: 92
MISSISSIPPI COUNTY 2006 Composite Rank: 98
2005 Composite Rank: 107
2004 Composite Rank: 109
Free & Reduced Price Lunch: 110
Moms Without High School Diplomas: 101
Low Birth Weight: 115
Infant mortality: 26
Child Death: 114
Child Abuse & Neglect: 43
Out-of-Home Placements: 75
Drop outs: 62
Teen Violent Deaths: 63
STODDARD COUNTY 2006 Composite Rank: 111
2005 Composite Rank: 108
2004 Composite Rank: 107
Free & Reduced Price Lunch: 80
|Moms Without High School Diplomas:||84|
|Low Birth Weight: 106|
Infant mortality: 99
Child Death: 65
Child Abuse & Neglect: 99
Out-of-Home Placements: 115
Drop outs: 40
Teen births: 77
Teen Violent Deaths: 52
Source: KIDS COUNT