KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Children in communities ringing the metro area continue to be some of the safest, healthiest, and best educated in Missouri, according to the latest update of a report that ranks all the state’s counties on the well-being of their youngest residents.
But Jackson County, which includes the urban core, has not budged from ranking among the lowest quarter of the 115 areas studied. The study included St. Louis City, which ranked last.
The data was included in the 2012 KIDS COUNT Missouri Data Book, released earlier this month by Partnership for Children, the University of Missouri Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis, and the Children’s Trust Fund.
Platte County ranked best in the state. The ranks of other counties neighboring Jackson also were ranked high: Clay, sixth; Cass, 11th; and Lafayette, 20th, even as Jackson County ranked 86th.
The 2012 rankings were similar to those in the 2011 report, though Platte took over the top spot from St. Charles, a suburban St. Louis county.
The 10 indicators included infant mortality and high school dropout rates, violent deaths (ages 15-19), and the number of students receiving free- or reduced-price school lunches.
“We want to educate the state about the state of our children,” said Charron Townsend, president of the Partnership for Children, which is based in Kansas City, Mo. “We want all of our kids to reach their full potential.”
This year’s report showed statewide improvement in half the indicators between 2007 and 2011, including reductions in the rates of infant mortality and births to teens.
Townsend said better medical technology and improved outreach to young women were likely factors in those improvements.
The report tied worsening outcomes to the lingering effects of the poor economy. For instance, according to the report, nearly half (47.7 percent) of the state’s public school students were eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches in 2011.
Townsend said the Partnership for Children would delve deeper into the data with MU researchers to see what other factors might be at work. Partnership for Children also plans to hold KIDS COUNT Conversations in communities around the state.
“I want all counties, period, to be ranking high,” Townsend said. “But when Platte took over St. Charles, I was like, ‘That’s great that we have a local county that is No. 1.’ But No. 1 and No. 86, that’s not great. We need to work on that.”
The relative affluence of the suburbs compared to some urban neighborhoods certainly played a role in the ranking disparity among neighboring counties, said Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department.
A suburban son or daughter, he said, was more likely than a child from a struggling. inner-city family to show up for school well fed and ready to learn.
Archer said, if they stood alone, the suburban areas of eastern Jackson County likely would compare in rank to the counties north of the Missouri River.
However, he said, some of the negative indicators from Kansas City could perhaps be attributed to better monitoring and reporting than in other parts of the state.
“I don’t want to over read this stuff,” he said.
But others said it would be a mistake to ascribe the high rankings of the Northland simply to the fact they are suburbs, said Spencer Fields
He is past chair of Northland Health Care Access, a coordinator of safety-net care, and a former member of the North Kansas City school board.
Fields said Clay County, in particular, had diverse socioeconomics.
He said teachers’ efforts in the Northland made a difference along with the addition of recreation options, such as the trail system in Platte County.
And Fields said the reach of the safety-net system in the Northland “is as great as it has probably ever been,” noting that the expansion of the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Clinic had been a big help.
Townsend said she hoped the KIDS COUNT data also would help change the minds of lawmakers who tend to blame urban areas for many of the state’s societal ills. Many of the worst statistics in the report, she said, were from rural counties in southeast Missouri.
State Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat said the report provided lawmakers hard numbers upon which they could base decisions.
“That seems to be a little bit more persuasive that just, ‘Help kids,’” he said.