NASHVILLE (March 21) — The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth has released its County Profiles of Child Well-Being in Tennessee. The profiles include substantial county-level data and county ranks in important areas affecting child development: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. The profiles also list county measures on 38 indicators, an analysis of the county’s strengths and challenges and policy recommendations to improve outcomes.
The information reported in the profiles is based on data gathered prior to and during the pandemic, the profiles provide an important glimpse into how the pandemic and subsequent response has impacted children across Tennessee.
The data is primarily from 2020 and the 2020-21 school year, with a few 2019 indictors. Some indicators show substantial volatility year to year, especially in rural counties with fewer people where small changes in actual numbers of events can cause large changes in rates.
At ninth, Weakley County is among the top Tennessee counties in child well-being. Some of the county’s strongest rankings include a high percentage of 3rd to 8th-grade students rated proficient on TNReady math and reading tests and a low percentage of babies born at a low birth weight. The county’s biggest opportunities for improvement include a high percentage of births to unmarried females and a high rate of child and teen deaths.
Additional strengths are a low cost of housing and a low percentage of children without health insurance.
Additional challenges include a low median household income and an above average rate of substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect.
In Weakley County, the percentage of births to unmarried females is 47.1 percent, ranking 68th in the state.
The school suspension rate was .8 percent, ranking 37th.
Substantiated abuse and neglect per 1,000 was 6.4, ranking Weakley 55th.
According to the report, Weakley County ranks 47th in child poverty, with 20.7 percent of children living in poverty. The median household income was reported at $46,979, ranking the county at 62nd. The fair-market rent is rated at 14th with a price point of $845 per month.
In health, Weakley County ranked 6th in the state, with 4.5 percent of children lacking insurance and child and teen deaths per 100,000 at 31.6, ranking 62nd.
The high school graduation rate for Weakley County was reported at 93.1 percent, ranking the county at 41st across the state.
The total population for the county was reported at 33,345, with 6,593 of those under the age of 18.
The reported per capita personal income was $41,159. The median home sales price for Weakley County was $120,000, according to the report.
Children receiving SNAP benefits was 1,802; Families First grants (TANF) was 128 and under five receiving WIC was 440.
Weakley County provides 510 school-age children with special education services. The total number of economically-disadvantaged students in Weakley County was listed at 2,516 and 400 students had reports of chronic absenteeism.
The reported total of children on TennCare in Weakley County was 4,389 out of a total 7,756 enrollees in the county. There were 212 children reported to be eligible for Medicaid/CHIP, but were uninsured in the county.
Other notable numbers include 25 medical doctors (per 100,000 residents) in the county; 7 dentists (per 100,000 residents) and 14 teens with STDs.
The number of reported child abuse cases in the county was at 319. Fourteen children were committed to state custody, and 23 remaining in state custody.
Key indicators include:
Tennessee had more than one in five children living in poverty in 2020. The lowest percentage is in Williamson County (3.6 percent) and the highest percentage is in Lake County (40 percent).
Fewer than one in three 3rd-8th grade students in Tennessee rated proficient on 2020-21 TNReady Reading tests. In Haywood County, fewer than one out of every 10 students rated proficient compared to Williamson County, where more than half of all students rated proficient.
Across Tennessee 4.9 percent of children were uninsured in 2019. The lowest percentage of children lacking health insurance was 3.8 percent in Lake County. The highest percentage was in Pickett County at 6.9 percent.
Tennessee had 4.6 substantiated cases of abuse or neglect per 1,000 children in 2020. Decatur County had the highest rate at 12.2 and Williamson County had the lowest at 1.
Comparing data across counties provides a glimpse into the inconsistent experience of children across the state. Comparing the strongest performing counties to those facing the greatest challenges we see differences that are often more than a factor of 10. A child in Lake County is over 10 times more likely to live in poverty than a child in Williamson County. A 3rd- to 8th-grade child in Williamson County is over 10 times more likely to show proficiency on TNReady reading tests than a similar child in Haywood County. A child in Picket County is almost twice as likely to lack health insurance as a child in Lake County. A child in Decatur County is 12 times more likely to suffer a substantiated case of abuse or neglect that a child in Williamson County.
“As an agency, we are always working to improve the well-being of children, youth and families across the state,” said Richard Kennedy executive director of Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “These county profiles always serve as a reminder that the experience, opportunities, and access to positive outcomes can look vastly different for each child in Tennessee.”
The counties ranked in the top 10 are Williamson, Wilson, Sumner, Rutherford, Washington, Moore, Blount, Smith, Weakley and Crockett. The counties with the greatest opportunities for improvement are Madison, Shelby, Lake, Lauderdale, Hancock, Davidson, Union, Haywood, Campbell and DeKalb.
Policy/Practice/Program Options to Improve Outcomes. Many of these policies have multiple models for delivery, including public-private partnership and non-profit leadership.
- Babies born to single mothers are at significantly greater risk of living in poverty than those born to two-parent households, especially when the single mom is a teen. Comprehensive sex education classes that include both encouragement of abstinence and information on birth control have been shown to reduce the number of teen pregnancies.
- Child and teen deaths can be reduced with consistent enforcement of safety measures like proper car seat and seat belt use, bicycle helmet use and life preserver use around water. The fastest-growing cause of child and teen deaths in recent years has been homicide and suicide, often involving a firearm. Families who own firearms can reduce the risk to children and teens by following safe storage practices.
- With a low median household income, counties can support children who live in poverty by improving outreach to those who may qualify to receive SNAP, WIC and/or TennCare benefits to be sure they are aware of these services. Additionally, 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.
- Two-generation programs, such as evidence-based home visiting, have been shown to reduce instances of child abuse and neglect.
The County Profiles of Child Well-Being in Tennessee and additional information about data methodology can be found at www.tn.gov/tccy/countyprofiles.
About the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth
The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is an independent agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its primary mission is to lead systems improvement for all children and families through data-driven advocacy, education, and collaboration. Information on the agency is available at www.tn.gov/tccy.