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Facts on poverty, health show we need to do more for kids

By PHIL OSBORNE

Danville Schools Education Foundation

Let us first start with an irrefutable fact: Roughly 70 percent of students in Danville schools are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. That number can fluctuate from month to month, but 70 percent is a pretty safe average to use. When I mention that number during presentations to civic or service clubs, the first response is usually one of doubt or disbelief. But it’s true.

Eligibility criteria are based on family size and income. For example, a family of four earning $33,000 annually is eligible for free meals for school-age children. Compare that with the state’s median family income, which is some $62,000.

Simply put, we have children in need. But the free and reduced statistic is only the tip of an increasingly large iceberg concerning other social and health-related issues.

On the health side of the equation, we are still a society where far too many families and individuals use the emergency room as their primary care provider. Nutrition suffers because of food deserts that cover wide swaths of geography. Transportation — reliable personal or public — becomes an issue to access health care or to go through the simple process of shopping for a variety of fresh produce.

Here are some other sobering facts from Kentucky Youth Advocates: 25 percent of all Boyle County children live in poverty; 18 percent live in a food insecure environment, which means they really don’t know when they might eat again; 27 percent of teens in the county who are pregnant smoke, which unsurprisingly leads to one in 10 babies suffering from low birthweight.

There are other factors that contribute to a child’s mental, physical, and emotional health, including a measure called ACEs — Adverse Childhood Experiences. They include mental, physical, or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, and children in households where families experience substance abuse, incarceration, domestic violence, mental illness, or loss of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.

More than 50 percent of Kentucky children have been exposed to at least one adverse experience, and an alarming 14 percent have been subjected to three or more.

Heart of Kentucky United Way offers a session called Bridges Out of Poverty periodically to make more people aware of the realities and misperceptions of what poverty looks like — and how it impacts communities at all levels — educationally, socially, and economically.

And please don’t think Danville and Boyle County are immune to it. Based on the Kids Count data from Kentucky Youth Advocates, and as we have mentioned before in reference to early childhood initiatives, only 52 percent of the students in the county are kindergarten-ready when they enter school. I say “only” 52 percent, because in my home county — Carter, in the foothills of Appalachia and with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state — the number of kindergarten-ready students is 61 percent.

The health and welfare of our children is a logical place to start and to emphasize. As Benjamin Franklin said much more eloquently than I ever could, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Phil Osborne is executive director of the Danville Schools Education Foundation. Email him with questions about the foundation at posborne@danvilleschoolsfoundation.org.