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Conditions for Barry County youth improve

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The health and welfare of children in Barry County have improved over the past year, according to the annual Kids Count report released by Citizens for Missouri's Children.

Kids Count ranks 114 Missouri counties and the city of St. Louis using 10 indicators of child well-being. The study found improvements statewide in the child abuse and neglect rate, the number of child deaths and violent teen deaths, the number of out-of-home placement entries, infant mortality rate and the number of births to mothers without a high school diploma.

Deteriorating rates were found in the number of children enrolled in free and reduced meal programs, the high school dropout rate, the teen birth rate and the number of infants born with a low birth weight.

Barry County had a composite rank of 89th in the state for 2009, compared to 99th in 2008. The overall change could be traced to significant improvements in three major indicators.

* The biggest shift was in the ranking of births to teens between age 15 and 19. Barry County was ranked 68th in 2009, down from 101st in 2008. This past year, almost 54 out of 1,000 births in Barry County were to teenage mothers, a drop from over 77 per 1,000 during the benchmark year of the study. The current state rate is a little over 45 per 1,000.

* Barry County's ranking for births to mothers without high school diplomas was 103rd in 2009, down from 110th in the previous year. The number of actual cases dropped by 28 percent from the base year in the study. A little over 31 percent of births in the county come to mothers without diplomas compared to almost 18 percent statewide.

* The county ranking for high school dropouts was 58th, down from 67th in the previous year. The present drop-out rate in Barry County is 2.8 percent, better than the 3.9 percent rate statewide.

The child population in Barry County totaled 9,338 in 2008, an increase of 39 from the previous year. Children have represented one-quarter of the overall population for at least four years. Ethnic minorities represent 18.5 percent of children in 2008, up from almost 14 percent in 2004.

A number of factors related to the overall economic situation reflected increased stress. These included:

* Adult unemployment rose to 5.4 percent, compared to 4.9 percent in the previous year.

* The number of children receiving food stamps rose by 164 between 2007 and 2008 for a total of 3,796, which represents almost 41 percent of the children living in the county, up 2 percent from the base year.

* Barry County's ranking for the number of children enrolled in a free or reduced cost meal program at local schools rose to 86th, up from 80th the previous year.

* Children enrolled in the Missouri HealthNet for Kids healthcare program rose by 48 children between 2007 and 2008. The county total is 40.2 percent, down from just over 45 percent in the base year.

Several indicators showed little change in the county:

* The number of children receiving subsidized childcare dropped by two cases between 2007 and 2008. The total has declined by 39 percent from the study's base year.

* The number of infant deaths increased by two cases between 2007 and 2008. The death rate for infants in the county is eight per 1,000, compared to a state rate of 7.4. The county's ranking is 78th in this category.

* The number of deaths to children age 1 to 14 dropped by one between 2007 and 2008. The county's state rank is 79th.

* The number of children born with below average weights decreased by one case between 2007 and 2008. The county's ranking is 83rd.

* The county ranking for out-of-home placements went from 83rd to 82nd. The rate of placements is 5.6 per 1,000 entries, compared to 3.8 per 1,000 statewide.

* There were 14 violent deaths for teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008, one less than in 2007, and two less than the base year. The county rate for violent deaths is 1.2 per 1,000 compared to .9 per 1,000 statewide. The county ranking is 89th.

* The number of cases of child abuse and neglect has stayed fairly steady over the years. The 2008 rate was higher than the base year while the 2007 rate was lower. The county rate is 49.6 cases per 1,000, compared to 32.1 cases per 1,000 statewide. The county ranking is 101st.

Numbers that showed worsening conditions offered a target for making improvements, said F. Scott Gee, executive director for Citizens for Missouri's Children.

"These declines demonstrate that there is still work to be done to ensure that all Missouri children have the opportunity to develop into healthy, educated and well-rounded adults," said Gee. "Together as a state, we can work to develop policies to ensure that our children do count."

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