Local service organizations are expressing excitement over recently released statistics that show the economic well-being, health, education and family of Northeast Missouri children have improved the past several years.
The nonprofit Missouri Family and Community Trust's 2018 Kids Count databook demonstrates statewide improvement in several categories and reveals that most Northeast Missouri counties are among the best in the state when it comes to caring for the needs of children.
"This data is a key component of how we interact with the community," Northeast Missouri Caring Communities Executive Director Melissa Emel said. "It gives us indicators of what's working well and what isn't, and it helps guide our multi-year plans."
Sandy Caswell, assistant director of Families and Communities Together in Hannibal, agreed.
"If you think you have a problem in a certain area, you can look at the data and see if that's true or if you have a problem in a different area. We react to the data we see," she said. "If one area is lacking, then we try to improve our programs and services to meet that need."
Missouri Family and Community Trust used 2012 and 2016 statistics in various categories to identify the needs of children and families throughout the state.
The nonprofit said in its databook that the information is meant to act as a predictor of the relationship between childhood experiences and adult outcomes. Its goal is to facilitate conversations about child well-being, better inform policymakers and service providers and provide information to counties so that they can address needs in their communities.
Missouri Family and Community Trust ranked all 114 Missouri counties and St. Louis City from best to worst well-off overall. Osage County ranks No. 1, and St. Louis City is at No. 115.
Lewis and Ralls counties rank fourth and fifth best, respectively.
"Ralls County is small, but it has always done a really good job of caring for its residents," Caswell said.
While Ralls County was at the No. 5 spot four years ago, Lewis County improved from its previous No. 23 position. Enhancements in child economic well-being, health, education and family were responsible for the high ranking.
Several other Northeast Missouri counties were positively ranked, as well.
Clark County is No. 21; Knox County is No. 22; Marion County is No. 24; and Scotland County is No. 33. Both Clark and Knox counties had previously been ranked in the 40s. Marion and Scotland County slipped from the No. 9 and No. 20 position, respectively.
Emel, whose organization primarily works in Knox and Schuyler counties, said promoting literacy, helping to fund tutoring programs and offering adult education programs to ensure a high school or technical degree have helped residents in the area.
"Studies show that children who are born to someone with a high school degree or higher tend to be more successful, so we want to make sure people receive an education to improve outcomes," she said.
Unfortunately, other Northeast Missouri counties fell significantly in the ranking.
Shelby County, now No. 64, used to be in the No. 15 spot. Pike County fell by 10 to No. 71. Monroe County moved from No. 25 to No. 82.
Although Missouri children's lives have improved from 2012 to 2016 in all but one statewide outcome indicator, the 2018 databook said, the gains for Missouri's children aren't always equally distributed.
Where children live and the quality of resources in their local communities have an impact on their well-being, Family and Community Trust wrote, concluding that children in Missouri's most rural and most urban communities to continue to face the greatest challenges.
"Something noticed in the data has been low birthweights, so that's something that needs to be looked at further in our area," Caswell said. "Some of the causes of this are the age of the mother and her health, such as whether she smoked. So placing more emphasis on preventative measures for this will be a priority."
Regardless of the areas for improvement, both Caswell and Emel said the recently released data is reason for optimism.
"We're super excited to see the positive changes in Northeast Missouri counties," Emel said.