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Fremont County ranks last in Kids Count report

Feb 26, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Fremont County continues to rank last in the Wyoming Kids Count 2013 Data Report, which evaluates the well-being of children in Wyoming.

The 11 most populous counties in the state, that each account for 3 percent or more of the state's child population, showed Fremont County in the last position, meaning the county has not improved since last year's report that showed Fremont County in the 10th spot in a list of 10 counties. The 11 counties together account for 81 percent of the state's total child population.

Indicators rank counties

The data is based on 11 indicators, such as infant mortality rate, births to unmarried mothers, less than adequate prenatal care and low birth weight babies. Seven of the indicators gathered data from the most recently available information in 2011. The remaining four indicators came from information gathered from 2007 to 2011. The state's Office of Vital Records and Statistics provided most of the data.

This year's report omitted the "teen alcohol use" indicator and added "mothers with less than high school education" indicator. The report ranked Albany County highest on the list. Albany County held the same spot in last year's report as well.

Despite their distant rankings, both Albany and Fremont counties are side by side in median household income. Fremont County's is $45,000 and Albany County's is $40,000, placing it last on the median income list. Ranked No. 10 on the child well-being list is Campbell County, which reported the highest median household income of more than $75,000.

Although Albany County is ranked No. 1 in the child well-being list, in its total population of about 36,000, only about 5,000 are children, or 16 percent. Twenty other counties have a child population of 20 percent or more.

Within Fremont County, the Wind River Indian Reservation was shown to be the area with the highest Earned Income Tax Credits filed, indicating low income communities. Roughly 46 percent of people from Fort Washakie, Kinnear and Arapahoe claimed their EITC.

"It is evident from examining proficiency exam scores by school district, and EITC data by zip code, that aggregately, the reservation differs significantly regarding outcomes for children, than those communities outside the reservation," wrote Kids Count director Marc Homer in his essay that accompanied the report. "Fremont County is critically in need of multi-generational effort focused on improving outcomes for children."

Report drives changes

The child well-being of Fremont County still ranks low even after the population of communities on the reservation are averaged with non-reservation communities in Fremont County.

The data report determined that about 20 percent of children in Fremont County are at poverty level, and that number would be greater if Lander and other communities had not been averaged in.

As a result, Homer said these reports have been used to acquire resources to improve areas in communities that need effective changes.

"We've seen a lot of counties build partnerships with their local government and (the) Wyoming Business Council," he said. "It has helped create an awareness in communities, to try and imrpove things in that area."

Homer also described the report as a "reliable map" and a "model" that has been used when seeking grants.

Homer added that their goal is to provide proof and a guide, and they hope, he said, to show that children are a priority.

"I have definitely seen over the years how much the importance of children's issues have been elevated in the public eye," Homer said.

What the results mean

Fremont County commissioner Keja Whiteman said in the repotrt that the county continues to lack in some areas of basic needs, such as health care access, and further promotion of programs and improvement methods will be pushed.

"Fremont County has many service organizations and providers that work to correct these inequities, and I know our rankings do not reflect their efforts," she wrote.

Crystal Bearing, a former resident of the reservation who now lives in Laramie, said in the data report that although Fremont County is ranked lowest, the tribal communities are strongest in continuing the education of American Indian culture and language.

"The Wind River Indian Reservation is the only place in the state of Wyoming where an Indian child has the opportunity to learn both an education and their culture," she wrote. "From a cultural standpoint, the reservation is the best place for our children to learn their language and customs."

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