A report card came out recently comparing Marion County children and families with families in the other 104 Kansas counties.
There were some highs and lows, but overall, Marion County’s marks were better than other counties of similar size and many times better than the state average.
“The overall purpose of the data is to educate the community about the status of children and families in our local county and in the state,” Marion County Communities in Schools Director Linda Ogden said. “It is also hoped that the information can be used to help advocate for needed change that benefits children and families who may be at a higher risk.”
The data is compiled annually by Kansas Health Institute from a variety of sources and provided to Kansas Action for Children.
The most recently released data was from 2007, 2008, or 2009.
Only 51 percent of Marion County children were immunized by age 2 in 2007. The state average was 58 percent.
According to Anita Hooper of Marion County Health Department, the information is extrapolated from kindergarten enrollment information, which is why the information is two years old.
So, why isn’t the state standard higher and should Marion County residents be concerned about the lower percentage?
The real issue may not be that children are not being immunized.
“Statistics may decrease because requirements change,” Hooper said.
Immunization qualifications are modified, usually on an annual basis and typically adding more immunizations to the list.
“Kansas is very active with the American Academy of Pediatricians and keeping on top of immunizations,” Hooper said.
Even though there is room for improvement, Marion County’s numbers may not be as low as the percentage indicates.
How do we know vaccines help children?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention annually releases information that showed the estimated annual morbidity of children 5 years and younger before a vaccine implemented and after.
Diphtheria, polio, and smallpox have been obliterated. The three diseases had claimed nearly a half-million children per year before vaccines were produced.
Rubella and congenital rubella syndrome have decreased more than 99 percent since vaccines have been administered.
Haemophilus influenza type b, which is counteracted with an Hib inoculation, used to claim 20,000 lives per year. Now less than 50 children die each year because the vaccine is now required.
Hepatitis A used to claim nearly 118,000 lives per year. These days, the number is slightly more than 15,000.
Hepatitis B saw similar results with an 80 percent decrease in deaths.
The list goes on — measles, mumps, pertussis, tetanus, and varicella together once claimed more than 5 million lives per year. Those numbers are now drastically reduced to claiming a little more than 675,000 lives per year.
So, why don’t parents have their children immunized?
Hooper said there was a time when parents were concerned about preservatives in the vaccines.
“Since then, preservatives have been removed from most childhood immunizations,” Hooper said, “not because they were dangerous but to alleviate parents’ fears.”
Vaccines change on a regular basis because illnesses keep evolving.
“An example of a good addition to vaccines was when the state added the rotavirus vaccine,” Hooper said.
Previously, there was a risk of children becoming dehydrated when they became ill with the virus.
“It has saved trips to the emergency room,” she said.
The purpose of vaccines are to keep children well, Hooper said.
And the vaccines are safe.
“It can take up to 10 years for a vaccine to be licensed by the Federal Drug Administration,” Hooper said. “Vaccines are safe because they go through a rigorous testing process.”
Some children have medical conditions that prevent them from receiving immunizations.
Also, there are parents who think their children don’t need to be immunized.
“Some parents believe it is OK not to immunize their children because most other children are immunized,” Hooper said. “Immunizations do not protect 100 percent.”
In Marion County, there are two vaccine providers — Marion County Health Department and Preferred Medical Associates – Hillsboro Family Practice.
“We work closely with all doctors in the county to keep immunizations up to date,” Hooper said.
Compared with other counties, Marion County was below Allen, Jackson, Marshall, and Nemaha counties but slightly above Rice County.
The immunization data was from 2007. Between 2007 and the present, Marion County children are being increasingly immunized, showing an upward trend of 1.53 percent.
Where we ranked on other surveys
Marion County was well below the state average for the number of poverty-level income families with children under the age 18. The state average is a little more than 14 percent. Marion County has 12.4 percent. In comparison, Allen County has 18.72 percent and Nemaha County has 10.5 percent who qualify.
The average median household income in 2007 for Marion County families was $41,268, more than $6,000 below the state average.
Some good news is that 12.43 percent of local students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 reported taking five or more drinks at least once in a two-week period in 2008. The state average is 15.23 percent. The same was true of youth tobacco use with 11.54 percent using in a 30-day period compared to the state average of 13.02 percent.
The county’s population of 18-year-olds and younger is below the state average — 20.79 percent compared to 25 percent.
More than 95 percent of county students graduate within a four-year period, 100 percent of schools met the Average Yearly Progress in 2007, nearly 87 percent of fifth-graders met reading proficiency standards, and nearly 79 percent of women received prenatal care in 2007.
“Marion County data is fairly benign this year,” Ogden said, “but in years past, it has pointed out some real problems.”
Several years ago, the data illustrated a severe shortage of the availability of child care.
“We used that data and KAC publications to distribute at community meetings,” Ogden said. “This actually increased advocacy in our county for an increase in child care slots.”
The data can also be a “wake-up call” in counties where rates might indicate higher risks than peer counties on any given indicator. The data is used to justify the need to compete for grants, but the data does not automatically increase eligibility for funding, Ogden said.
The data can also indicate what’s ahead for Marion County families.
The most recent poverty data was from 2007, before the economic crisis.
“If that data was available for 2009, I would bet that it would show the trend of poverty continuing upward,” Ogden said.
She also noted that the free and reduced school lunch rates were outdated, noting that this year’s rates (which were reported in this newspaper) were higher than in previous years.
The information can be misleading, Ogden said.
“We always look pretty good on paper,” she said.
Sometimes the data accurately reflects that county residents are doing well.
Communities That Care survey data includes information about under age drinking and tobacco use. Digging a little deeper can reveal a different story, Ogden said.
“For instance, while we have a county total rate of youth binge drinking and tobacco use below the state rates, this data at the school district and/or grade level points out some real concerns,” she said. “Some district and grade levels rates are much higher than the county and state rates.
“It is for these youth that I have great concerns.”
Overall, Ogden said the county is doing well.
“I attribute that to the fact that we happen to have adults, including parents, in our county who are working very hard to parent, provide services for, educate, and support our kids from birth through high school, Ogden said. “Look at the attendance at school plays and music and athletic events. They are packed.”
Adults care about children in Marion County. Professionals providing services to children are making a difference.
“Teachers, administrators, and counselors in our school systems genuinely care about kids and are working so hard to do what is best for their students,” Ogden said. “I also observe that the number of Marion County families with serious challenges — economic and otherwise — is increasing.
“We will all need to increase our collective efforts for helping each other, being good neighbors, and putting children first.”