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20th Annual Child Well-Being Report Identifies Areas of Focus for Tennessee

For Release: July 28, 2009
Contact:      Linda O’Neal
                  Pam K. Brown
Phone         (615) 741-2633


      The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports Tennessee ranked 46th in the nation. The 2009 KIDS COUNT Data Book compares states on 10 core indicators of child well-being. Although Tennessee improved on five of the 10 measures, the state still has much work to do.

      Tennessee has made progress in reducing school dropouts and achieved its highest rank on this indicator. The state also reduced the percent of youth who are not in school and not working. Both indicators relate to good public policies designed to keep children in school, including mandatory attendance until age 18, linking drivers licensing to school attendance and increased efforts to keep children in school.

      Tennessee also had substantial reductions in the child death rate, which improved by more than 20 percent from 2000 to 2006. Public policies regarding child restraint devices, bicycle helmets and life preservers in boats help keep children safe and reduce child deaths. Accidents are the second leading cause of child deaths in the state.

      “Tennessee tends to have very good public policies, especially when they do not require public funds,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the state’s KIDS COUNT affiliate. “Our challenge is implementing the evidence-based strategies we know make a difference in outcomes for children when they cost money, especially when they are cost effective and reduce long term expenditures.”

      O’Neal commended the Tennessee General Assembly for its efforts to protect services for children in a very tight budget. Legislators preserved funding for such proven programs as pre-kindergarten, coordinated school health, children’s mental health and home visiting programs in the current fiscal year’s budget. These dollars maintain public-private and state-local partnerships necessary to implement essential “infrastructure” services to provide children and families opportunities for success.

      Although the infant mortality rate in Tennessee improved slightly from 2000 to 2006, the state ranked 47th, its worst ranking on any indicator. Low-birth-weight babies contribute significantly to infant mortality, and Tennessee’s ranking was 44th on this indicator.

      The Governor’s Office on Children’s Care Coordination (GOCCC) began concerted efforts to address infant mortality in 2006 through strategies to improve maternal health and birth outcomes. GOCCC has funded programs in Nashville and Memphis that provide neighborhood-based peer counseling for low-income mothers.

      “Tennessee is well-positioned for improvements in infant mortality as a result of these targeted programs,” O’Neal said. “When we improve women’s health by reducing tobacco and other drug use and improving overall health, nutrition and prenatal care, we improve birth outcomes for their children.”

      Tennessee also ranked in the bottom 10 on five additional indicators. The rankings of 42nd on both the teen birth rate and the percent of children in poverty and the 43rd ranking on percent of children in single parent families are very much interrelated. Tennessee ranked 44th on the teen death rate with more than three in four of these deaths due to motor vehicle accidents. Hopefully, compliance with the new law prohibiting texting while driving, coupled with better compliance with seat belt laws, will help reduce the deaths of young people in motor vehicle accidents.

      The 2009 KIDS COUNT Data Book is the 20th edition of the annual publication. KIDS COUNT is like a map and a compass. It tells us where we are and where we are going over time. The book’s narrative focuses on the importance of counting, counting so we know how our children are doing as a state and nation. The essay lists gaps in data availability and collection methodology, including the outdated definition of poverty. Data needs to be more timely so we can better assess child well-being and know if strategies we put in place are working.

      KIDS COUNT supports the use of outcome measures of the success of public child-welfare policies and calls for expanded measurement and more effective and consistent measures. Effective measures equip legislators and policy makers with the tools they need to make the best use of scarce state dollars.

      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. It has been affiliated with the KIDS COUNT program for 18 years.

      The KIDS COUNT National Data Book is available on the Internet at www. and through TCCY’s website at

The KIDS COUNT program is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. For more information, contact (615) 741-2633 or a TCCY regional coordinator.