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The 'State of the Child' in Tennessee

PHOTO: A new report on Tennessee's young children points to early intervention and increased high quality pre-K opportunities to make sure they arrive at school with the cognitive, social and emotional skills they need to learn. Photo credit: Pawel Loj/Flickr.
PHOTO: A new report on Tennessee's young children points to early intervention and increased high quality pre-K opportunities to make sure they arrive at school with the cognitive, social and emotional skills they need to learn. Photo credit: Pawel Loj/Flickr.
December 4, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The state of the child in Tennessee could be stronger, and a new KIDS COUNT report says that will require a greater focus on those most important early years. Research shows the vast majority of a child's brain development comes by age five. Linda O'Neal, executive director with the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, says that means efforts need to be targeted toward those young kids, and there are three main strategies.

"One is to expand the voluntary high-quality pre-kindergarten program we have so it reaches more children," O'Neal says. "A second is to expand home visiting programs for new parents, and the third is to accept the federal Medicaid funds so all children have access to health care."

Gov. Bill Haslam is planning to bring a Tennessee plan on expanding Medicaid to the legislature next year.

O'Neal says providing health care and these other early supports for Tennessee's children considered at-risk will pay big dividends in the future, with them arriving at school ready to learn, not weighed down by the trauma of poverty, hunger or abuse.

"It is increasingly clear the impact that early adverse childhood experiences have," she says. "It makes it clear how important it is to provide the preventive strategies and the early intervention to help children have the opportunity to be more successful when they go to school and in life."

In Tennessee, there are nearly 400,000 children living in poverty, and hundreds of thousands more in families considered low-income.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TN