When it comes to the well being of Alabama’s children, for the most part the northwest corner of the state falls in the middle of the pack.
But one category area officials can boast about is the downward trend in infant mortality.
Tuesday’s release of the 2019 Kids Count Data Book listed the overall county rankings as 27 for Colbert County and 28 for Lauderdale County. While officials agree that there’s room for improvement, the improvements in infant mortality are noteworthy.
The infant mortality rate in Colbert and Lauderdale counties is less than half what it was 10 years ago.
In 2007, Colbert County’s infant mortality rate was 12.2%. That rate has fallen to 4.8% in 2017. Lauderdale County’s 2007 rate for infant deaths was 9%, but it dropped to 3.5% in 2017.
“We’ve been seeing the rates go down in individual counties, which represents better access to individualized care and access to transportation,” said Area Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers. “It’s a matter of overall better access to care, and more education in communities.”
Landers said that while she’s pleased with Lauderdale and Colbert rates, she remains disturbed that more rural “extremely under-served” counties aren’t faring nearly so well.
“In many ways, we’re getting to the right place, but statewide we still have problems that need to be addressed,” Landers said.
She stressed that education for women prior to becoming pregnant and prenatal care is essential for women in rural counties.
Pilot programs are proving beneficial in providing the education and needed services. A pilot program is currently in place in Macon, Montgomery and Russell counties, she said.
Statewide, infant mortality rates in the birth to teens (15-17 age) range has decreased more than 60% since 2017, Landers said.
“That’s strictly due to the education factor, which is what we’ve been preaching for as long as I can remember.”
The reduced number of homeless students is another area of improvement that pleases area officials.
The state average for homeless students is 2.2%. Those students are identified as lacking a fixed, regular and adequate residence, and the rate includes students in shelters, motels, cars, or those living with friends or relatives.
The Colbert County student homeless rate is down slightly from 2017 to 2018, dipping from 4.2% to 4.1%.
Lauderdale County’s rate has gone from 2% to 1% in the same time period.
Colbert Schools Superintendent Gale Satchel said her district strives to seek out homeless students to get them the services they need.
“We interpret the drop (in student homelessness) as the services we provide are filling the gap,” Satchel said. “We need to make sure we are using a comprehensive way to identify students, so no student falls between the gap.”
The report shows more younger children are being served through the state’s First Class Pre-Kindergarten program.
Both Colbert and Lauderdale counties have had yearly increases in enrollment of four-year-olds eligible for the pre-kindergarten program.
In Colbert County this year, there are 19 classrooms, comprised of 342 children. That number represents 51.6% of the county’s four-year-olds.
In Lauderdale County, there are 38 classrooms with 684 children, accounting for 75.2% of four-year-olds.
High school graduation rates in the two counties remained stable with Lauderdale at 95% for both 2017 and 2018, and Colbert County increasing from 93% in 2017 to 94% in 2018.