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State Ranks Low on Rating of Services to Children

March 22, 2000Contact: Linda O'Neal
or Pam Brown
(615) 741-2633

Many outcomes for Tennessee teens have improved, according to a report about the status of children in Tennessee released today, but Tennessee, which ranked 45th in the most recent national Kids Count data book, still has a long way to go.

The teen pregnancy rate has dropped steadily since 1991, according to KIDS COUNT: The State of the Child In Tennessee. The incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in Tennessee teens decreased by nearly 20 percent from 1995 to 1999.

"Increased awareness, fear of HIV/AIDS infection, and a variety of community strategies have contributed to these improvements," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, which released the report.

"In addition to abstinence efforts, family life education and programs like 'Baby Think It over,' which uses electronic dolls that simulate what it is like to have a baby, have made a difference," she said. "Hope for a bright future is the best prevention."

Dropout rates for students declined from 1997 to 1998. The number of teen firearm deaths has fallen by 16 percent from a high in 1995. The number of students expelled from Tennessee schools has fallen since the 1997 school year, perhaps due in part to more common sense approaches to zero tolerance policies.

The percent of Tennessee's children referred to juvenile court for all reasons dropped slightly from 1997 in 1998. While nearly 10,000 children were found to have been abused or neglected in 1998, indicated child abuse rates have dropped since 1995. The number of children committed to state custody also declined during that period.

"A variety of prevention and intervention efforts, including crisis intervention and family preservation services, have helped keep children out of state custody," O'Neal said.

TennCare is serving Tennessee's children: half of births are covered by the state's public health insurance program, and 45 percent of all TennCare enrollees are under the age of 20. The percentage of Tennessee mothers receiving adequate prenatal care continues to rise.

"Improved prenatal care contributes not only to healthier babies, but also to children who are more likely to be ready for school when the time comes," said O'Neal

However, disparities between groups continue. White teens 15 to 19 are three times more likely to die in motor vehicle accidents than African-American teens, but African-American teens are 16 times more likely to die by homicide. African-Americans and males were more likely to be expelled from school and to be disproportionately represented in juvenile court.

The report, which contains more details about the well-being of Tennessee's children, is divided into five sections: Healthy Babies, Healthy Children, Healthy Minds, Healthy Families and Healthy Communities. It reports on 31 facets of the lives and health of Tennessee's children, with 32 county-by-county data tables. Many categories have information about "What Works" to improve outcomes. The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is the Tennessee partner of the KIDS COUNT program, which is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to disadvantaged children. For more information about Kids Count or the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, see the agency's Web site at www.state.tn.us/tccy/.

For more information, contact Pam Brown, KIDS COUNT director, or Linda O'Neal, executive director, TCCY, (615) 741-2633 or a TCCY regional coordinator from the attached list.