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TN Maintains Gains in Child Well-Being

Experts say early-childhood education can improve a child's potential for success in school and in life, in addition to improving socialization skills. (Twenty20)
Experts say early-childhood education can improve a child's potential for success in school and in life, in addition to improving socialization skills. (Twenty20)
June 27, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee is holding its place nationwide in terms of children's well-being, maintaining the same ranking as last year – 35th in the nation – in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book.

The annual report gives Tennessee leaders a chance to pinpoint areas for improvement. Tennessee KIDS COUNT Director Rose Naccarato says a growing economy is improving the lives of children.

"Much of that gain has come from growth in the economy and the economic well-being indicators; some of it has come from education," Naccarato explains. "Certainly, one of the biggest areas last year that we've held onto the growth in, is youths who are in school or employed."

She adds, as in many states, the opioid crisis is creating a demand on state healthcare resources. Between 2010 and 2015, incidences of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a side effect of babies born addicted to drugs, increased from 11 per 1,000 live births to 24.

This year, Gov. Bill Haslam rolled out TN Together, a multifaceted approach across state agencies to end the opioid epidemic by focusing on prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

The new Data Book shows upward trends in many aspects of child well-being, particularly in economic indicators. However, there are mixed results or stalled progress in the other domains, according to Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation.

"We want to do right by all kids and make sure that they have strong families, strong communities and the opportunities that will help them to thrive," Speer says. "And many of the trends that we're seeing are really good. But there's still a lot of work to do."

Speer adds that an accurate count in the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census is vital to meeting the needs of the state's children.

Naccarato sees one way Tennessee can advance quickly in the rankings in the coming years.

"Our Pre-K program only serves about 25 percent of the children that are the right age for that. We are pretty low for that measure, down in the 40s," Naccarato says. "Offering more Pre-K seats could definitely give us an improvement there."

In education, Tennessee's fourth- and eighth-graders saw improvement in reading and math, respectively, outpacing the national average. When many states were cutting school funding, Tennessee continued its steady increases through the Basic Education Program, although the state still ranks in the bottom 10 in per-child spending.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN