Kids should be safer in Shelby County

Overall, the state of Alabama ranked as the No. 48 state in the country for children, a decidedly sorry ranking.

However, Shelby County is a bright spot for kids within the state, ranking as the No. 1 county in Alabama for kids according to the 2011 Alabama Kids County Data Book.

Shelby County ranked as No. 1 in three important indicators: 3.7 percent of Shelby County children were born to unmarried teens in 2009, compared to 10.6 percent statewide. In 2010, 17.2 percent of Shelby County children were living in single-parent families, compared to 34 percent statewide. And in 2009, 9.9 percent of Shelby County children were living in poverty, compared to 24.6 percent statewide.

Also, the county’s 2010 graduation rate of 79.7 percent is almost 14 points higher than the state graduation rate of 65.8 percent.

These statistics are excellent for the county and should be applauded; however, hidden behind the No. 1 ranking are several statistics that should bring us pause. In the “safety” category, the county was in the middle of the pack, with a No. 23 ranking for the county’s 2009 child death rate of 12.6 deaths per 100,000 children ages 1-14; a No. 24 ranking for the 2009 preventable teen death rate of 24.3 deaths from homicide, suicide and accidents per 100,000 teens ages 15-19; and a No. 17 ranking for the 2010 rate of children with indication of abuse or neglect, with 7.3 of every 1,000 children under 18 showing signs of abuse or neglect.

Those statistics are just as important; children don’t have to live in poverty to be abused, just as teens can have two parents at home and still be at risk of suicide. County officials, organizations and educators must spend time and effort to help improve those numbers and keep kids safe.

Shelby County may be the best county in the state for kids, but that doesn’t mean it’s good enough.

The We Say is the opinion of the Shelby County Reporter editorial board.