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Tennessee Ranks 43rd in Child Well-Being

Embargoed until Contacts: Linda O'Neal
July 27, 2005 or Pam Brown
3:00 a.m. EDT Phone: (615) 741-2633

The future is brighter for Tennessee children because good laws and policies make a difference in positive outcomes for children and families.

These lessons are validated in the 2005 KIDS COUNT Data Book on the well-being of children in Tennessee and in the nation.
Tennessee ranks 43rd in child well-being based on 10 individual indicators of health, social and economic well-being.
“We know when parents are responsible, children do better. Likewise when states and communities are responsible and do the right thing for children with good public policy and investments to meet their needs, both the children and the community prosper,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the Tennessee KIDS COUNT agency.

The state’s best ranking is 28th on the percent of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. “Innovative policies in Families First, Tennessee’s welfare program, contribute significantly to positive outcomes,” O’Neal said. Families First screening, assessments and solutions-focused therapy address barriers to employment, especially domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues, including depression, and provide families assistance needed to succeed in the workforce. Policies supporting remedial education and job training improve life-long employability.

“Advocates and Department of Human Services’ staff have worked together for policies and programs to meet the needs of vulnerable families,” O’Neal added. “Tennessee advocates have known the importance of the Families First emphasis on removing barriers, and now the value of the program is acknowledged in the 2005 KIDS COUNT Data Book.”

The percent of teens who are high school dropouts has decreased, giving Tennessee its second-best ranking at 30th. Tennessee’s improvements have mirrored those of the nation. O’Neal attributed this success to good public policies, including mandatory school attendance to age 18, linking driver licensing to attendance, truancy prevention efforts and keeping children in school through more common-sense zero tolerance. New Bullying Prevention legislation should also help improve the climate in schools and make it easier for students who have felt victimized to stay in school, she added.

Tennessee’s child death rate improved by 11 percent between 2000 and 2002, and was Tennessee’s third-best measure, with a ranking of 38th. Again O’Neal cited strong laws requiring the use of child restraint devices in vehicles, bicycle helmets and life preservers in boats as examples of good public policies that help keep children safe.

Unfortunately, the teen death rate, which includes all causes of death, increased. Accidents, especially motor vehicle accidents, are the most frequent cause of teen death. The full impact of Tennessee’s graduated driver’s license for teens, which went into effect in July 2001, is not fully reflected in this report. Frequently the only survivor in horrible vehicle accidents involving youth will be the only one wearing a seat belt.
Tennessee’s worst ranking is on infant mortality, where the state ranked 48th worst. Only Mississippi and Louisiana rank worse than Tennessee. The state ranked 45th for low-birthweight babies, an indicator closely related to infant mortality.

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 or through TCCY’s website ( 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.