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Platte County: The best place to raise children

by Kim Fickett
Landmark reporter

For Platte County residents, being ranked number one in several areas is something they have become accustomed to.

According to Kid Count 2000, these factors, as well as many others combined to name Platte County the number one county in the state of Missouri to raise your children.

KIDS COUNT in Missouri (KCM) is a four-year collaborative project of Citizens for Missouri's Children and more than 30 public and private organizations from across the state. The project's mission is to improve the well-being of Missouri's children by heightening awareness of children's issues within local communities and by promoting more effective responses to children's needs throughout the state.

The study evaluates child population within the county, children in poverty, adult unemployment rate, high school graduation rate, children receiving AFDC and food stamps, annual high school dropouts and births to mothers with under 12 years of education, among many other factors.

For the second consecutive year, Platte County has majored up to the State of Missouri's standards and remained in the number one spot out of 115 counties within the state.

"We should feel proud that the county in which we live has ranked number one the past two years in a row as the best place in Missouri to raise children," said Director of the Platte County Health Department Mary Jo Everhart.

"We have the best of both worlds here. We are close to Kansas City and yet rural enough that we don't have the problems of an inner city. The citizens of Platte County have definite pride in where we live and we want to continue to keep the county a good place to live for adults, as well as children."

Everhart stated one of the reasons for the top status is the growth of the county's population.

"Our population growth being in the higher income bracket I feel helps our county statistics," stated Everhart. "Where as other enterprises like the City of St. Louis (ranked 115) have more lower income families which tends to skew the results due to the lack of money for health services.

"When it comes down to a choice of paying the bills you have to to survive every month, you have to let some things slide. And in most cases, it's health services."

For Platte County the public clinic immunization rate from 1995 to 1999 has increased from 76.9% to 82.5%. Children with elevated blood lead levels has decreased dramatically from 6.0% in 1997 to 2.8% in 1999.

"We (health department) have nearly doubled our increase in clinic availability to the public," said Everhart.

The Platte County Health Department also opened a second facility in Riverside, which is open five days a week, to accommodate the "lower income pocket of the county," she said.

"One of the reasons for our facility in Riverside is because of the already existing infrastructure of lower-income apartment complexes," explained Everhart. "The City of Riverside is currently experiencing a lot of growing and changing within the community to overcome that poverty label."

In 2000, Platte County serviced 34,593 patients through nursing services. While 2,338 people were serviced in 2000 through environmental health services.

One area Platte County saw an increase in was probable cause child abuse/neglect. The statistics raised from 113 cases to 330 cases.

"This is definitely an area we're going to want to address. One thing we have to look at is are there more cases or are there more people speaking up," stated Everhart.

In February the Platte County Health Department will be looking at its strategic planning efforts.

"We will try and plan by using the counties specific data as far as services we need to offer the community in the future," said Everhart. "We will always do our core functions as we always do, but we also need to look outside that comfort zone to look at issues we need to address for the health of our counties citizens."

Other areas in the Kids Count 2000 report included a decrease of children in poverty from 9.3% to 5%, a decrease in children receiving AFDC from 3.3% to 1% and children receiving food stamps from 10% to 6.4%. While the annual high school dropouts decreased from 110 to 105 and students enrolled in free and reduced lunches placed the county second in the state, with enrollment up 1,371 in 1995 to 1,413 in 1999.

"I believe the school is a mircrocosim of the county and the community. The school being reflected in the county and how the district is perceived by the State of Missouri," said Mark Harpst, superintendent of Platte County R-3 School District.

Harpst stated that the state's top recognition of the county also coincides with the state's recognition of the school district's honor of accreditation with distinction.

"Despite our growth, it shows that we are handling the needs of our kids, parents and community in an appropriate way."

"The Kids Count report illustrates that we have very good departments working for our kids," stated Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight. "It's a great honor to be recognized in the areas of the health department, school districts, county and community. It shows as a whole we are doing this for our kids."

Knight says a report such as this helps spur the county's growth.
"The Kids Count report says people in the county care about our kids and it makes people want to move here. Platte County is the best place to raise our kids and when this information gets noticed, it'll make people want to move here," explained Knight. "That's why we have to work hard to keep doing the right things to support those other agencies who are working hard to take care of our kids."