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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

Tennessee has received a report card on the state of its children.

"The news is mixed and helps us see where we are doing well and where we need improvement," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. "The state results are better on five of the measures, remained the same on two, and worse on three."

The Kids Count National Data Book, published annually, once again placed Tennessee 45th in its ranking of states on indicators of child well-being.

Thanks to the state's healthy economy the number of children whose parents were underemployed fell by 26 percent from 1990 to 1997. This also resulted in 5 percent fewer children living in poverty, in contrast to the national statistics, which grew by the same percentage.

The percent of children living with working parents in Tennessee is substantially higher than the national rate, but the median hourly wages for child care workers in Tennessee are 59 percent of the median hourly wages for all workers.

The only other category in which the state's figures did not track the federal figures was teen violent deaths, which rose by 3 percent. Nationally, the teen death rate was down by 18 percent. The teen homicide rate in Tennessee continued to rise after the national rate began to fall. More recent data suggests that the state's rate began to fall in 1998. Nationally, the teen motor vehicle fatality rate appears to have decreased more than Tennessee's rate between 1990 and 1999.

The state has improved on many measures of child health. A higher percentage of children in Tennessee are covered by health insurance and a slightly higher percentage of Tennessee's 2-year-olds had received recommended immunizations than in the nation. Both the infant mortality rate and the child death rate have fallen, though they continue to lag behind the rest of the country.

An area of good news is the juvenile crime arrest data. Though still unacceptably high, the juvenile violent crime arrest rate in Tennessee is substantially lower than the national rate (72 percent of the national rate). The juvenile property crime arrest rate in Tennessee is also lower than the national rate (79 percent of the national rate).

"One area of concern is the percent of children living in families headed by a single parent," said O'Neal. "Almost one in three Tennessee children lives in a single-parent family, higher than the national rate."

The book focuses on the lack of connection between poor people and their communities, especially inner city and rural poor people. This keeps them shut out of the job market and prevents them from getting needed services.

"It's shocking to realize that even though almost half of the state's children had a computer in their homes," O'Neal said, "more than one in 10 (11 percent) couldn't call 911 from home because they don't have a telephone.

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 a 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.