For the 30th anniversary of West Virginia KIDS COUNT, the organization took a step back and revamped the way it does its annual state data book, which details the well-being of children growing up in the Mountain State, said Tricia Kingery, executive director of the agency.
This year’s data book includes all the metrics that comprise the national organization’s data book — 16 factors split between economic well-being, education, health and family and community — as well as 13 categories identified as emerging well-being indicators specifically for children in West Virginia.
The indicators in the state book are detailed at the county level to the extent the data is available. The additions to the data book were a two-year undertaking, Kingery said, and she hopes the information can help policymakers identify and address rising issues and trends that may threaten the welfare of the state’s children.
“Every area, every state has different challenges, and we’re really excited to have this amount of information out there, published, on things that are unique to us, here,” Kingery said. “The environment has changed so much here in the last 30 years — the opioid epidemic, foster care, grandfamilies and economic downturns. That’s information we need, data we have to track and include in our book.”
For this new data set, KIDS COUNT created a Data and Policy Advisory Committee comprised of leaders from a number of the state’s child-focused advocacy groups, as well as a number of data and health experts.
KIDS COUNT worked with agencies and community partners in all 55 counties to collect as much data as possible on these topics, and more. Those partners had the support of experienced researchers from West Virginia University and Marshall University, who helped the local agencies vet and analyze the data to ensure it’s as accurate as it can be, Kingery said.
“In a lot of areas, the folks on the ground don’t have the expertise they need to make sure they’re using the best data sets. We have those resources, and it’s important that we make them available where possible,” Kingery said. “We really set the bar high, here. That was our intention, and as we continue collecting and analyzing, our data is only going to get better.”
While there is more information available this year than ever before, Kingery was clear that not everything is perfect — something outlined explicitly in the state data book.
There are a number of caveats for the data that is available: some counties had too small of sample sizes for certain factors, like children living in poverty; some data is only available in certain counties, like the number of teens not in school and not working, which was only tracked in Monongalia and Kanawha counties; and some categories, like math and reading proficiency for fourth and eighth graders, may use different sources than the one used by national agencies.
Instead of including potentially inaccurate data, though, KIDS COUNT marked “N/A” for categories with insufficient numbers, ensuring that people don’t draw inaccurate conclusions from the findings, Kingery said.
The agency identified the following factors as emerging child well-being indicators for West Virginia: infant mortality, low-wage workers with children, the child abuse/neglect rate, 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten, children who are homeless, children in foster care, children in kinship care or living with grandparent (grandfamilies), babies with neonatal drug exposure, children with dental care, children with central fluoridation water, child immunization rate, children with well-child exams through Medicaid and child nutrition data point.