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Tennessee Ranked 43rd in Child Well-Being

Embargoed until Contacts: Linda O'Neal
June 3, 2004 or Pam Brown
3 a.m. EDT Phone (615) 741-2633

Tennessee has made progress in child well-being in several areas, but overall the state remained 43rd in the annual KIDS COUNT national rankings, according to a report released today. The report highlights areas of progress and underscores the need to improve opportunities for success for all children.

“In America we pride ourselves on taking care of our own. But too often we are failing young people entrusted to the public’s care – teens aging out of the foster care system, kids who don’t finish high school, or youth in the juvenile justice system,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the Tennessee KIDS COUNT affiliate.

“We as a society need to provide stronger community supports like job skills and continued learning opportunities, counseling and financial assistance to improve the odds these young people will make it and become responsible, productive adults.”

The report stated that about 4,000 youth will soon age out of foster care in Tennessee.

“These are some of the most vulnerable youth, struggling to move into successful adulthood without the family support most of us take for granted,” O’Neal said. Efforts to link these young adults with mentors, stable housing and educational and job opportunities are critical. The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Program at Vanderbilt is demonstrating success in connecting youth exiting foster care with the supportive services they need to succeed.

KIDS COUNT measures identify needed improvements, and an area critical to the state’s future is education. Tennessee continues to lag the national averages in measures of educational progress. Although the state’s high school drop-out rate has improved, nearly one in five young adults is disconnected from the workforce. Seventeen percent of Tennesseans ages 18 to 24 are not enrolled in school, are not working and have no degree after high school.

“Providing quality early childhood education for all low-income children in Tennessee is the best long-term strategy for improving overall educational levels, including school performance and opportunities for higher education,” O’Neal added.

With the decline in the economy in Tennessee, we saw more children living in families where no parent had a full-time, year-round job, where the state’s ranking slipped to 43rd compared to 30th in the 2003 report. Median income of families in Tennessee is substantially below the national average. More children live in extreme poverty in Tennessee than in the nation as a whole, and 25 percent of young adults live in poverty compared to 20 percent nationally.

“We all eventually pay the price if our children and young adults are not prepared to succeed academically and take on the responsibilities of adulthood,” O’Neal said.

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.kidscount.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 a TCCY regional coordinator.