NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A new report ranks Tennessee 36th in the country for the overall well-being of the state’s children.
“Tennessee has for the most part stayed kind of in that 39 to 36 ranking over the last decade so there haven’t been any substantial changes across the board and child well-being,” said Kylie Graves, Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth Policy Specialist. “A lot of times our improvements are matching national improvement, we kind of follow the trend of national improvements. And so although we’re doing better, so was everyone else.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 2022 KIDS COUNT® Data Book. The Tennessee KIDS Count has the state ranked 41 for children’s health, 25 for education, 33 for economic well-being, and 39 for family and community.
“I have a mentor and one of the things that she has said to me often, is remember that children’s advocacy and improvements for children, youth and families is a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” said TCCY Executive Director Richard Kennedy. “It’s not that you can have a quick game, and then that solves all of the problems, you just can’t let up on issues.”
The family and community ranking is based on four indicators: children in single-parent homes, households where the head lacks a high school diploma, teen births, and children living in high-poverty areas.
“I think one of the frustrations because we were at this place for so long, was ‘What’s their solution? What’s going to change? What’s it going to take? Is this going to be what it is?” said Graves. “And then I think when we saw the child tax credit go into effect, it was clear there is something to be done, and it can have a really quick effect. So the child tax credit was only in effect for six months and it lifted one in seven Tennessee children out of poverty. It had a drastic effect on Tennessee’s child poverty and helped over a million children.”
The four indicators for Tennessee ranking 41 in children’s health include babies born at low birth weight, the child and teen death rate, youth 10 to 17 who are overweight or obese, and children who lack health insurance. According to TCCY, a lot of the children in Tennessee who are uninsured are eligible for health insurance through TennCare or Cover Kids.
“We know that’s a problem that we can solve. And we can solve that problem through awareness, we can problem solve that problem by continued messaging and reaching out to families through a variety of different strategies,” said Kennedy. “One of the things that we know is that parents who have health insurance are more likely to have health insurance for their children. So, I think that we have to continue to look at ways that we can ensure that more Tennesseans have access to health care.”
The highest ranking for Tennessee in the report was being at number 25 for education.
“I did just want to kind of add some context that this education data is a little bit behind as well,” said Graves. “So this isn’t reflective of some of the challenges that we’ve seen from the pandemic and the challenges that teachers have faced.”
She said one of the contributing indicators in the education ranking was the percentage of high school students who are graduating on time, an area that Tennessee has excelled in.
“Tennessee has consistently been in the top 10 over the last decade of states with that and one of the things that we point out a lot is the strong public policy Tennessee requires students to remain in high school if they want to have their driver’s license, and so that has, from what we’ve seen really contributed to keeping that high school graduation rate up,” said Graves. “That’s so critical to long-term success.”
Kennedy said the governor and General Assembly have had a focus on education for several years. Still, he said improvement can come with helping children, especially in their earliest years of life.
“The more that we focus on professionalizing, childcare, and really thinking about that as early childhood education, and please don’t hear me as saying that’s a negative of the existing childcare providers, but really focusing on that leading to pre-K, leading to kindergarten,” said Kennedy, “The more that we can do during that space, I think the better we will be able to be long term.”
He encouraged more community involvement in the well-being of children through public-private partnerships.
“We as a community, we as a state, have a really unique opportunity to expand our way of thinking about the work that we do, to really thinking about livable communities and all that comes along with those livable communities, whether it’s built environment, whether it’s family-friendly work policies, whether it’s having trauma-informed, and trauma-responsive communities because we know that when we can address those issues, then we’re going to have kind of better outcomes throughout the lifespan,” said Kennedy.
To read the full report click HERE.