State ranks higher in Kids Count report

State ranks higher in Kids Count report

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2010 9:02 pm

By EMILY WILLIAMS
Messenger Intern
Tennessee ranks higher than it has in 21 years on the well-being of its children. The state ranks 41st overall, an improvement from last year when the state ranked 46th.
The ratings come from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States, which was established in 1948 by UPS founder Jim Casey and his siblings. Its primary mission is to foster public policies, human-service reforms and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. In pursuit of this goal, the Foundation makes grants that help states, cities and neighborhoods fashion more innovative, cost-effective responses to these needs, according to its website.
At the national level, Kids Count is a state-by-state effort to track the status of children across the states. By providing policy makers and citizens with benchmarks of child well-being, Kids Count seeks to enrich local, state and national discussions concerning ways to secure better futures for all children.
Executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth Linda O’Neal says an emphasis on good public policy, backed up with adequate funding, is making a difference.
“We attribute Tennessee’s improvements in the Kids Count rankings to implementing some programs that have helped address infant mortality, and also to good laws and public policies that helped reduce the child and teen death rate.”
Ms. O’Neal says laws requiring parents to buckle up their children in cars and to wear helmets while bicycling helped Tennessee score its best numbers.
“Tennessee’s best ranking was 24th for child deaths, and this really reflects the impact of public policies for child safety, like requiring vehicle child restraint devices, where Tennessee was really first in the nation; seat belts; life preservers in boats; bicycle helmets; things like that.”
Ms. O’Neal attributes the reduction in Tennessee’s infant mortality rate to the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination, the state Department of Health and TennCare. She says this targeted program is saving money and lives.
“We know when women are healthier and when they really focus on early and adequate prenatal care, and when they really focus on that pregnancy, when we have home visitation programs, things like that, that we can help mothers have healthier babies and reduce infant mortality.”
The study shows that 7 percent of Tennessee teens are neither in school nor high school graduates, which is better than the national average of 8 percent. The rate has declined 36 percent since 2000, and the state now ranks 25th. Ms. O’Neal credits Tennessee laws requiring children to stay in school until their 18th birthday and linking eligibility for a driver’s license to school attendance for the low percentage.
Tennessee remains ranked in the bottom 10 for five of the 10 indicators: low-birthweight babies, infant mortality rate, teen birth rate, teen death rate and children in single-parent families.
Ms. O’Neal says the data for this survey were collected before the current recession, which highlights the importance of maintaining effective programs for increasingly stressed families and communities.
Some of the feature indicators used for the ratings were school expulsion rate, the number of youth committed to state custody, the infant death rate and the percent of cohort dropouts.
The state school expulsion rate for 2008 was 2.4, the number of youth committed to state custody was 7,171 in 2007, the infant death rate was 8.3 and the percent of cohort dropouts was 10.2 percent.

Counties’ stats improving
By EMILY WILLIAMS
Messenger Intern
In recently-released data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which tracks the status of children’s well being across the states, area counties showed improvement in a number of key indicators used for the ratings as well as areas in need of improvement.
Obion County faired better than Tennessee averages for the school expulsion rate in 2008 with a low 1.1, though it was up from only 0.2 in 2007 and 0.5 in 2006. The percent of cohort dropouts was 7.3 percent in 2007 up from 5.8 percent in 2006. The number of youth committed to state custody was 28 in 2007 down from a high 45 in 2004.
The infant death rate in 2007, however, was 12. This is higher than the state’s 8.3, but is an improvement from the 2004 score of 17.
Weakley County had an impressive zero rating for 2008’s school expulsion rate. The number of youth committed to state custody was 36 in 2007 down from 53 in 2006. The infant death rate was 9.3 and the percent of cohort dropouts was 6 percent in 2007, up from only 2.6 percent in 2006.
In Gibson County, the school expulsion rate was 0.2 in 2008, the number of youth committed to state custody was 81. The infant death rate was 12.6 up from only 3.3 in 2004 and 2005. The percent of cohort dropouts was 3.9 percent.
Dyer County’s school expulsion rate for 2008 was 2.6. The number of youth committed to state custody in 2007 was 22 and the infant death rate was 19.2, the highest in the area. The percent of cohort dropouts was 5.3.
The school expulsion rate in Lake County was 1.1 in 2008. There were nine children committed to state custody in 2007. The infant death rate was zero, a drastic decrease from 25 in 2003 and around 14 from 2004 to 2006. The percent of cohort dropouts, however, was a high 10.8.
Editor’s Note: Emily Williams, the daughter of Roger and Juli Williams of Woodland Mills, is a senior at Rhodes College in Memphis. She interned at The Messenger this summer.
Published in The Messenger 8.26.10

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