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For many West Virginians, the Mountain State seems like the perfect place to start a family. But data shows that may not be the case, as WalletHub’s “2023’s Best and Worst States to Have a Baby” places West Virginia at 47th.

What makes the numbers even more alarming is that the state does well in one category. We have the fifth lowest hospital cesarean-delivery charges.

Otherwise, there is considerable room for improvement. Sure, we’re in middle territory being ranked 23rd for the cost of having a baby — but lower costs aren’t a surprise. On the other hand, WalletHub’s research puts West Virginia at 45th for health care, a dead-last 51st for baby-friendliness and 48th for family friendliness.

West Virginia is 49th in both pediatricians and family medicine physicians per capita, and child-care centers per capita.

This isn’t just a state issue, it’s a community issue. “Raising children in child- and family-friendly environments tends to be a high priority for prospective parents, and local authorities who wish to attract such residents ought to consider how their towns or cities can be adapted to be supportive of families raising young children,” said Sean E. Brotherson, professor at North Dakota State University. “Investments in a child-friendly environment typically would include the establishment of parks, playgrounds, and other spaces for children to play and families to recreate; support of child safety efforts such as clean water, clean air, and local safety codes and practices; and efforts to increase the availability and affordability of quality child care options in the community.

“Additionally, a robust early childhood system with options for child care, preschool, early intervention, parent education, and other supports shows positive results not just for child well-being but for the long-term development of the local workforce and community.”

On a positive note, many of the items Brotherson listed already are being done here in Wheeling. City Council has invested heavily in new playgrounds, upgrading nearly every park within municipal limits with new equipment. The city also is working with private entities to improve child care options, most notably through allocating American Rescue Plan funds for a planned renovation of Market Plaza that will allow for a new child care center in the downtown.

And of course, there’s Oglebay Park and Wheeling Park, two of the most family-focused parks that can be found anywhere in the nation.

Even with all that, there’s still plenty of work to do.

Lawmakers — both locally and at the state level — have much work to do to enhance our state’s quality of life particularly as it pertains to raising children. Talk is cheap on this issue; it takes real action, such as what’s been taking place in Wheeling, to make a difference. We keep saying we want to attract and retain young people so they can live and raise their families here. It is far past time we worked on giving them a reason to do so.

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