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County gets low rating in child wellbeing

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

When the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY) released its annual report of county profiles of child wellbeing in Tennessee, Johnson County came in at 60th of the state’s 95 counties, placing the county in the bottom half of Tennessee counties in child wellbeing.

“As we move forward in addressing the systemic issues highlighted by this pandemic, it is crucial to have a clear picture of where we are coming from,” said Richard Kennedy, executive director of Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “These county profiles provide us with key information to understand how Tennessee children were faring before the pandemic.”

The county’s strongest rankings come from zero child and teen deaths and the state’s lowest housing costs. Additional strengths include a low school suspension rate and an above-average high school graduation rate.The county’s biggest challenges include some of the highest rates in the state of substantiated abuse or neglect cases and one of the lowest median household incomes. Additional opportunities for improvement include a high pregnancy rate among girls age 15-17 and the poverty rate. Tennessee has an average of one in five children living in poverty, and Johnson County has one in every four children living in poverty.

The report suggests implementing and continuing two-generation programs such as evidence-based home visiting, which have been shown to reduce instances of child abuse and neglect. Counties can also support families with low income or children who live in poverty by improving outreach to those who qualify to receive SNAP, WIC, and/or TennCare benefits to be sure they are aware of these services. Additionally, especially with low income, nutrition programs that provide food for school-age children to take home can contribute to nutritionally sound diets. Expanding services through Family Resource Centers can also help reach these vulnerable populations.

2020 State education takeaways:
Tennessee’s strongest gains came in 4th-grade reading proficiency and 8th-grade math proficiency, determined by scores on the bi-annual National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Tennessee’s highest rank is in the education domain at 29, and lowest is for health, where the state ranked 48.The state’s education domain rank is supported by the 90 percent of Tennessee high school students graduating on time in 2018, the third-highest rate in the country, and relatively high achievement in 4th-grade reading 8th-grade math.The state had one of the lowest rates of young children attending pre-K programs, with over 60 percent not enrolled in early childhood education.

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY) is an independent state agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families. TCCY is a state KIDS COUNT affiliate, and partial funding is provided through a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The KIDS COUNT: The State of the Child in Tennessee report, released annually by TCCY, focuses on the current state of children’s well-being in Tennessee as a whole and by county. TCCY ranked counties based on data organized into four domains, Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family & Community.