• Last modified 2759 days ago (Aug. 31, 2011)


County reflects state decline in child well-being index

Staff writer

Child poverty and a high rate of infant deaths have caused Kansas to tumble down the state rankings of child well-being, and data suggests Marion County faces those same challenges.

Linda Ogden with Families and Communities Together Inc. indicated Marion County’s challenges may not be resolved soon.

“The economic problems felt nationally the last two years have really been felt in Marion County this year,” Ogden said.

Kansas Action for Children, a child advocacy organization, reported Kansas has slipped from 13th to 19th in the latest rankings of child well-being published in the 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book compiled annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The most recent statistics from 2009 indicate nearly one out of every five Kansas children live in households at or below the federal poverty line ($21,756 for a family of four).

Kansas’ rank among the states fell from 18th to 23rd for this indicator.

An increase in the percentage of children in Marion County who qualify for free or reduced school lunches, a program based on financial need, mirrors the poverty data reported by KIDS COUNT.

From 2004 to 2008, roughly 35 percent of Marion County students qualified for free or reduced lunches. That percentage jumped to 42.6 percent in 2009, and crept upward to 43.1 percent in 2010.

Ogden noted families who had been struggling prior to the economic downturn have been dramatically affected.

“Some families have had to leave the county to move into homeless shelters or in with family,” Ogden said.

“This contributes to the decline in population in the county,” she concluded.

“Children who grow up in poverty are less likely to succeed in school and later on in life,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children. “We’re falling behind.”

Babies who are born alive but die before their first birthday make up the infant death rate, also known as infant mortality rate. The rate is expressed as the number of children who would die in their first year out of 1,000 births.

Kansas ranks 40th in the nation in infant deaths, at 7.9 per thousand; put another way, infants in 39 U.S. states have a better chance of living to see their first birthday than a child born in Kansas. For minorities, the statistics are worse – Kansas has the highest infant mortality rate for African American infants in the country.

Marion County far exceeds the state rate for infant deaths with a rate of 20.9 per thousand, according to data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

A higher infant mortality rate in Marion County compared to state averages was not news to Ogden.

“Our infant mortality rate in Marion County has historically been higher,” she said.

“Keep in mind,” Ogden continued, “the actual number of infants dying is very low – one or two a year.”

Carol Moyer, an epidemi-ologist with KDHE, urged caution in interpreting the data.

“You have to look at trends to get a good handle on this,” Moyer said. “I think it has something to do with randomness.”

Moyer did not offer an explanation as to why Marion County’s infant death rate is more than double that of most rural Kansas counties.

Ogden pointed out Marion County’s rates for child poverty and infant mortality have led to increased support through the Comprehensive Early Childhood Health Initiative for the county, funded by a grant from the state.

The initiative provides prenatal and support services, as well as early childhood support services to combat those numbers.

“Because of the data they’re talking about, here in Marion County we’re working to reduce those numbers,” Ogden said.

Last modified Aug. 31, 2011