By Bob Weaver

With the lack of economic opportunity declining, mostly because of small manufacturing jobs closing and going abroad, the outlook for the central West Virginia/Mid-Ohio counties is bleak.

Now comes another recession, often joked about in this part of Appalachia, saying such downturns are barely noticed, because we've been in a permanent recession.

Still, rising gasoline, energy and food costs will contribute to an already difficult situation for poverty-stricken children, certainly not to forget the working poor, once called the middle class.

During 2007, Calhoun County ranked 41st among the state's 55 counties when comparing conditions most favorable for a child's health and well-being, according to a West Virginia measuring stick for early development.

The West Virginia Kids Count data book lists factors related to infant mortality, babies born underweight, child death rate, teen birth rate, high school dropouts and juvenile delinquency.

Most statistics were from 2004, the most recent data available.

One-third of Calhoun's children are living in poverty, a number that has improved some over the years.

Fourteen counties were ranked worse than Calhoun, with Kanawha at 43.

Kids Count says Calhoun ranks 47th to 52nd, near the worst in the state, in such groups as births to unmarried teens (ages 10-19), child abuse and neglect rate, high school drop-outs and births to mothers with a 12th grade education.

The percent of unwed teen mothers is 13.1% in 2004, a number that has increased from 9.4% in 1990.

The high school drop-out rate is listed at 21.6% in 2004.

The child abuse and neglect rate is listed at 30.2% in 2004.

The percent of mothers with 12th grade education giving birth was 27.2% in 2004.

Because of the county's low population, the actual numbers are relatively low, still a problem compared to other geographic areas.

One of the most significant statistics has remained static since 1990, the number of children meeting poverty guidelines and eligible for free or reduced meals in the school system, 664 of the county's 1204 students, or 66.7%.

There is good news in the stats, with the county rated 4th best in the state in low-birth weight babies, with a low infant mortality rate, ranked at 13, and a large number of eligible children being served by Head Start.

The availability of primary medical care at Minnie Hamilton Health Care Center and other centers has improved the numbers for health related problems.

Margie Hale from Kids Count said Calhoun needs "more quality child care, with only two licensed facilities."

A major focus of last week's release in Charleston was the strong show of support for Senate Bill 452, which Hale and other organizers praised as legislation that would improve the quality and accountability of the state's early child development system.

"We have many issues in the state, but our youngest people are the most vulnerable," said Kenna Seal, director of the state Office of Education Performance Audits.

Clark Hansbarger, dean of the West Virginia University School of Medicine's Charleston Division, discussed the long-term payoff of providing a child from birth to 3 with proper health care and places to learn and grow.

Overall rankings for regional counties, Clay 24; Wirt, 28; Roane 37; Braxton 39; Ritchie 44, with lowest numbers indicating the most improvement.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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