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Investing in Children Pays Off

Embargoed until Contact: Linda O'Neal or Pam Brown
June 11, 2003 Phone (615) 741-2633

More Tennessee children have health insurance and are immunized as 2-year-olds compared to the nation as a whole, according to information in a national report of child well-being released today.

"Investing in TennCare has paid positive dividends in providing children with access to health care and improving immunization rates, so we must find ways to ensure TennCare investments in children continue," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the Tennessee KIDS COUNT partner.

The news is not all good in the report. Tennessee fell back one position from last year, ranking 43rd worst of the 50 states, in the KIDS COUNT National Data Book ranking of states on child well-being. A sizeable jump in infant mortality was the major factor in the worse ranking in the report, which is produced annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Tennessee ranks 47th, its worst ranking, on the infant mortality rate. Infant mortality in Tennessee improved steadily from 1990 through 1999. It worsened substantially in 2000. If these babies had lived, they would have filled 34 Tennessee kindergarten classrooms in 2005.

Tennessee earned its best ranking, 30th, for children living in families with employed parents. In 1990, Tennessee ranked 42nd on this indicator. "Families First investments made major contributions to Tennessee's improvements on this indicator by providing parents the education, training and assistance necessary for successful employment," O'Neal said.

Children living in single parent families continued to increase in Tennessee and the nation. With so many children in single parent and working parent families, the report also highlights the importance of investing in quality early childhood education and child care.

More Tennessee children are in paid child care while parents work and fewer are enrolled in nursery school, preschool or kindergarten than the national rates. "With almost one in three children under 6 in paid child care," O'Neal said, "we must maintain licensing standards that focus on safety and quality and enhance early learning opportunities."

O'Neal added, "Tennessee must invest lottery proceeds in early childhood education as the best long term investment for the future of Tennessee."

Tennessee experienced improvements in three indicators focused on teens, with rankings all in the 30s: teen birth rate, 39th; high school dropout rate, 35th; and teens not attending school or working, also 35th.

"Communities all across Tennessee have worked to keep teens in school and to reduce teen sexual activity and teen pregnancy, demonstrating that good public policy coupled with family and community efforts can make a positive difference," O'Neal added.

Although the teen death rate improved in Tennessee, the state's rank in this category is worse because other states have made substantially more progress reducing teen deaths. Future improvements are expected in Tennessee as a result of the graduated youth driver's license, which went into effect July 2001.

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is an independent agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families.

The KIDS COUNT National Data Book is available on the Internet at www.aecf.org or through TCCY's website (www.state.tn.us/tccy). The KIDS COUNT program is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to disadvantaged children. For more information contact (615) 741-2633 or the TCCY regional coordinator.

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