WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County ranks 78th among the state's 87 counties in its level of child poverty.
Nearly a quarter of the county's children are living in poverty, almost twice as many as 10 years earlier, according to this year's Kids Count study conducted by the Minnesota office of the Children's Defense Fund.
The Kids County annual report uses census data and other public information to track the status of children. The data in the 2012 report includes the most recent data available, mostly from 2010.
The data was presented Monday morning in a meeting at the Willmar Public Library.
This year's report emphasizes children outside the Twin Cities metro area. The Twin Cities have so many children that their numbers can overshadow information about rural areas, said Kara Arzamendia, CDF research director in Minnesota.
"Urban and rural places are really dependent on each other," she said. "They are unique and necessary for the prosperity of our state."
Low-income families in rural areas can face different challenges, she said. They can include isolation, lack of access to services or health care, limited housing availability, low wages and lack of transportation.
Some people may think of poverty as an urban issue, but the data tells another story, she said.
Statewide, the percentage of children living in poverty grew from 9 percent a decade ago to 15 percent, with a sharp spike seen after 2008. Nearly half of the state's children living in poverty are outside the metro area.
Over that time period, Kandiyohi County's child poverty level grew from 12 percent to 22 percent.
About 80 percent of Minnesota families have parents in the workforce, but wages are lower in rural areas. People in rural areas more commonly use public health care programs, because lower wages make them eligible for public benefits, she said.
Rural areas also have higher numbers of children who are uninsured. In Kandiyohi County, nearly 9 percent of children are uninsured.
When parents don't make enough money or have jobs that provide health care benefits, their children may not get enough food, don't get to visit the doctor as often and don't have access to enrichment activities other kids might enjoy, she said.
This year's report featured Heartland Community Action Agency's Helping People Get There vehicle donation program. "Transportation is a huge issue for families, for work, access to food, health care," Arzamendia said.
Information about poverty levels is important as studies indicate the long-term impacts of "toxic levels" of stress on young children, said Alexandra Fitzsimmons, CDF's legislative affairs and advocacy director.
Early and repeated exposure to stress can alter brain development and is considered a risk factor for adult substance abuse and other problems, she said.
A challenge for Minnesota is to figure out how to get agencies to work together to address the needs of children in poverty, Fitzsimmons said. "We need to figure out how to get services to the kids who need them."
Fitzsimmons said the CDF is urging policy makers to take a two-generation approach -- to talk about how policies affecting adults will also affect their kids.
She urged people at the meeting to register and vote and to attend candidate forums this fall to ask questions about children's issues.
For more information on the state Kids Count report, go to www.cdf-mn.org.
For information on national, state and county statistics, go to datacenter.kidscount.org.