The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT National Data Book released today found that, in spite of improvements in important indicators, Tennessee has slipped to 46th in overall child well-being in 2006 compared to 43rd last year.
The teen death rate in Tennessee has improved more than the national average, giving the state one of its best rankings at 32nd. Accidents are the leading cause of death for adolescents, and motor vehicle crashes are the most frequent accidents claiming the life of a young person. The child death rate in Tennessee also improved at a rate faster than the nation as a whole.
“Good public policies have contributed to these improvements,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Commission on Children and Youth, the Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT partner in Tennessee.
“Tennessee laws passed in 2001 established graduated driver licensing, placing restrictions on young, inexperienced drivers and resulting in a reduction in motor vehicle deaths,” said O’Neal. “Seat belt laws and requirements for bicycle helmets and life preservers in boats are also public policies that increase safety and reduce unnecessary deaths for Tennessee children and adolescents. But all too frequently the survivors in vehicle crashes involving adolescents are the only ones wearing seat belts.”
Too many babies are still dying in Tennessee before their first birthday. The state’s infant mortality rate was tied with Louisiana at 47th, leaving only Delaware and Mississippi with worse rates than Tennessee. The 728 babies who died in Tennessee in 2003 would have filled 36 pre-kindergarten programs in 2007.
According to O’Neal, an April Infant Mortality Summit in Memphis, the state’s city with the greatest number of infant deaths each year, coupled with new investments to address this problem – 2006-2007 state appropriations to address infant mortality ($1,443,100) and a women’s health initiative focused on obstetric and gynecological care ($3,000,000) – have the promise of reducing future unnecessary infant deaths.
The high school dropout rate in Tennessee remained the same at 11 percent, but the rest of the nation made dramatic strides in reducing high school dropouts. Consequently, Tennessee slipped from a ranking of 30th to 45th on this measure. And, on most measures, Tennessee students scored below basic reading and math levels.
While there are no quick fixes for dropout and school performance problems, the increase in pre-kindergarten programs in Tennessee and lottery-funded after-school programs are some of the best longer term strategies for helping children succeed in school and in life, and for improving school performance and high school graduation rates.
The essay in the KIDS COUNT National Data Book focuses on children in family-based care, which is more frequently utilized by children in low income and at-risk families. Overall Tennessee ranks 36th in the percent of children who live in poverty, and for children under age 6, the percentage living in poverty is even higher. Additionally, a higher percentage of Tennessee children are in family-based care than nationally. Efforts to improve quality in family-based care would greatly benefit these at-risk children.
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 at www.tennessee.gov/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.