I’ve been looking again at the National Survey of Children’s Health. One of the questions West Virginia scores lowest on is “How many children live in neighborhoods that contain a park, sidewalks, a library, and a community center?” Only Mississippi has more children who live where there are none of these, and only Mississippi have fewer children who live in neighborhoods with all four.

But what does this really mean? Doesn’t it mean that whoever wrote the survey was thinking only of city children? West Virginia is in some ways the most rural state in the country. If children have large yards, a garden, a creek in front and woods out back, do they need a park, sidewalks, and a community center? We already saw that West Virginia parents are more likely to read, sing, and tell stories to their children. If the kids get taken to the library every week or two, does it need to be in their neighborhood?

And our children live where
“People in my neighborhood help each other out.”
“We watch out for each other’s children in this neighborhood.”
“There are people I can count on in this neighborhood.”
“If my child were outside playing and got hurt or scared, there are adults nearby who I trust to help my child.”

More West Virginia children lived in caring and supportive neighborhoods than all but 8 other states, all of them rural (Utah, Vermont, Idaho, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Nebraska). More of our poorest children live in supportive neighborhoods than in all but 4 other states. And more parents feel their children are always safe in their neighborhood than all but 7 other states.

We may hear more often about the things we and our children don’t have and don’t achieve. But we have healthy children, in neighborhoods where neighbors still care, and where we don’t need city parks because we have not “paved paradise.” West Virginia families have held on to many of the values and ways of life that people in other places are now trying to regain or rebuild.