The Kansan

Childhood poverty in Harvey County is increasing, part of a state-wide trend, according to data from KIDS COUNT, an annual report published by Kansas Action For Children.

"We have steadily increased the number of childen living in poverty for the past 10 years," said Christie Appelhanz, the vice-president for public affairs with KAC. "It's a growing trend in Kansas. In Newton, it's no different."

In Harvey County, the child poverty rate has increased to 18.5 percent from 13 percent in 2010.

"We see that many families simply haven't rebounded from the recession," Appelhanz said. "There are a lot of working families out there that are not able to make ends meet."

Lynnette Redington, director of the Harvey County Health Dept., said "the cost of living goes up, but wages don't go up proportionally."

Wanda Pumphey with Peace Connections in Newton said the numbers are of special concern. Research shows poverty is a "toxic stressor that can affect growth and maturation of the brain. Children in Harevy County are going to be affected detrimentally in their physical, mental, emotional health and ability to learn."

While poverty has been increasing, safety net programs have been reduced, Appelhanz said. She attributed that to administrative changes in programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Eligibility requirements have increased and the programs are more difficult to access.

A few months ago, the Kansas Department for Children and Families discontinued its practice of using federal funding to assist people in signing up for SNAP benefits.

"Making it more difficult for people to live in poverty does not make them any less poor," Appelhanz said.

The data does raise questions that people do not have answers for, such as why births to mothers without a high school diploma have increased from 14.5 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in the most recent Kids Count report.

"Lots of times the data raises questions for communities to explain," Appelhanz said.

Here is other Harvey County data from KIDS COUNT:

* There are 53 slots available in Head Start Start for every 100 eligible children. * The immunication rate for fully immunized kindergarteners by age 2 has decreased one percent to 69 percent. The state rate is 72 percent.

Here are more positive data trends for Harvey County:

* The percentage of lives births to mothers receiving adequate or better than adequate prenatal care increased to 88 percent, higher than the state rate of 82 percent. * There is a decrease in the percentage of low birth weight babies to 5.8 percent. * The number of ninth graders in public school who graduated four years later rose to 87 percent in the last school year, up from 85.7 percent the previous year.