Kansas children appear to be drinking a lot more than they did five years ago.
A recent compilation of state statistics found that between 1995 and 1998, 34 percent of the state's children admitted to consuming beer, wine or liquor within a 30-day period.
In 1999, the statewide average jumped to 53 percent.
"Binge drinking is up, too," said Gary Brunk, executive director of Kansas Action for Children, a nonprofit organization that advocates for children.
The findings, released Monday, are part of Kansas Action for Children's annual county-by-county look at quality-of-life issues affecting children. The report is called "Kids Count."
"Statewide, binge drinking -- that's having five or more drinks in a single setting -- went from a four-year average of almost 18 percent to 21.2 percent last year," Brunk said. "So it's up, too. These are kids who are drinking to get drunk."
Jefferson County recorded the largest percentage increase in self-reported binge drinking, going from a four-year average of 18 percent to 36 percent in 1999.
Other counties showing significant increases in binge drinking were Cherokee, Chase and Lyon.
Franklin County showed a 6 percent decrease. In Douglas County, the averages remained unchanged at 27 percent.
Also in Douglas County, the average number of children consuming alcohol within a 30-day period in 1999 increased only 3 percent from the 1994-98 average; use of illicit drugs (not including alcohol) went down 67 percent.
Statewide, the illicit drug-usage average declined 25 percent.
"Part of this may reflect a problem with the data collection," Brunk said, explaining Douglas County's showing. "Nevertheless, it says something is going on in Douglas County that goes against the statewide trend in alcohol consumption."
Brunk said Kansas Action for Children got the alcohol- and drug-usage numbers from a survey of more that 14,000 students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades in 1994-98; more than 23,000 in 1999. The numbers were compiled by Kansas University's School of Social Welfare.
Though most schools participate in the survey, some do not. In Douglas County, for example, the Baldwin and Eudora school districts participate, while the Lawrence district does not, preferring a survey method in place for several years.
But even if Lawrence numbers were included, the overall trend would be similar or unchanged, said Lori Alvarado, director of DCCCA's drug and alcohol prevention services.
"When you're dealing with numbers, it hard to say what's causing what," Alvarado said. "But I can say that a lot social service agencies in this area have been making a very concerted effort to get the word out, and, anecdotally, we're hearing that young people are more accepting of each other's differences than they were five years ago.
"If someone chooses not to drink, it's considered a personal-choice issue; it's not the 'do-gooder,' 'goody two-shoes' thing it used to be.
"That's a change in attitude," Alvarado said. "And we know that changes in attitude lead to changes in behavior."
Alvarado said she didn't know what was behind the increase in binge drinking in Jefferson County or a similar increase in alcohol consumption within 30-days in Franklin County.
Other findings of interest:
- Douglas County showed significant declines in the average number of children in state custody; 220 in 1994-98, 159 in 1999.
At the same time, the average number of cases filed in juvenile court went up 35.1 percent.
- In Douglas County, 15 percent of all children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty guideline.
In Franklin and Jefferson counties, 17 and 13 percent of the children live in poverty.
- Though Douglas County and most of the state's populous counties experienced a decline in the number of babies born to single teens, more than 40 counties had increases topping 20 percent.
- Of the state's populous counties, only Douglas and Sedgwick showed declines in the number of deaths of children, ages 1 to 14.
In 1994-98, Douglas County averaged 2.4 deaths per 100,000 children; in 1999 the average fell to two per 100,000.
"The findings, overall, are a mixed bag," Brunk said. "If I had to come up with a message, it would be that the increases in alcohol use are alarming and, on the positive side, that good things are happening on the community level " like what we're seeing in Douglas County."