The Kids Count in Missouri report comes out at the beginning of every year, giving agencies that serve the state's children a snapshot of how they're performing or, in some cases, what they're up against in quality-of-life issues.
The report relies on measurable activities involving youngsters and delivers the numbers in an easy-to-understand format.
The only analysis offered is a ranking of the 114 counties and the city of St. Louis.
The report is compiled by the Citizens for Missouri's Children, a public-interest organization and watchdog group funded through donations and foundation grants and through the sale of products like the Kids Count report.
Members of the group ask that counties not focus on the rankings, but it's difficult not to in a country where people rank everything from student achievement to most physically fit cities.
The rankings weren't so good for Southeast Missouri counties in the most recent report released this month.
Cape Girardeau County, in the top 16 counties with the best figures in the state every year since 1998, dropped to No. 41 for 2001.
Out of 10 measures used, the county's trend was worse in five of them and unchanged in a sixth.
There were more children receiving free and reduced-price school lunches.
There were more births to mothers who didn't graduate high school.
There were more infants with low birth weights and babies who died in the first year.
And there were more children abused or neglected.
On the upside, there were fewer high school dropouts, births to teens and deaths in children.
Perry County slipped from No. 44 to No. 67 in the rankings, and Scott County went from No. 63 to No. 73. Both had downward trends for births to uneducated mothers, free and reduced-price lunch participation, unhealthy babies and child abuse and neglect.
Bollinger County actually improved from No. 108 to No. 91, but that could be because counties above it dropped in the rankings.
Perhaps more useful is comparing the counties' numbers to the state average. Cape Girardeau County does very well in such a comparison, doing better than average in all 10 measures except births to uneducated mothers and foster-care placements.
No matter the ranking and comparison, agencies in every county should use the annual Kids Count report as a guideline for where they can do better. The goal should be to reduce these problems for our young people to virtually nothing.