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Vanderbilt Child Health poll shows parents worried about mental health and school quality

West Tennessee parents more concerned with mental health and suicide

Middle Tennessee parents more concerned with school quality


 A new poll of Tennessee parents from the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy found that most Tennessee parents placed school quality and child mental health at the top of their list of concerns for their children, with both among the top five concerns across the state’s grand divisions and among racial and ethnic groups.

Parents polled in West Tennessee collectively ranked “Child Mental Health and Suicide” as their number one concern.

“Concern for their children’s mental health is top of mind for Tennessee parents now more than ever. As I talk to parents of my patients, they often note how challenging it can be to find mental health providers in Tennessee. This means that milder mental health issues end up escalating to a crisis, and more and more children showing up in emergency rooms and urgent care for mental health needs,” said Katherine Spencer, Psy.D, HSP, psychologist and assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics.

The top five concerns were similar when separated by West, Middle or East Tennessee, but in a different order. The number one concern for parents in Middle and East Tennessee was “Education and School Quality.” 

That concern ranked second for parents in West Tennessee. “Bullying & Cyberbullying” was the third most-concerning issue for West Tennessee parents, followed by “School Gun Violence” ranking fourth and “Drug & Alcohol Use” ranked fifth.

Similar to previous years, bullying (including cyberbullying) was in the list of top five (36 percent of parents); however, new this year was school gun violence (27 percent of parents).

The top five concerns were similar to parents’ concerns from the previous years’ poll results, though school gun violence appeared in the top five for the first time, researchers noted.

According to last year’s results from polling in 2021, parents in West Tennessee ranked “Education & School Quality” as their number one concern, while “Child Mental Health and Suicide” did not rank among the top five list of concerns. Parents in Middle and East Tennessee consistently ranked “Education and School Quality” as their number one concern.

“Parents’ top concerns have been consistent in recent years, with two in five parents rating education and school quality as their top concern for their children. As we emerge from the pandemic, we see parents increasingly worried about child mental health and suicide, with 36 percent of parents citing this as a top concern compared to 31 percent last year. Collectively, the top five list provides important insight into Tennessee parents’ chief concerns for their children,” said Stephen Patrick, MD, MPH, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy.

“While parents’ concerns were similar across Tennessee regions and by parental race, there were notable differences. Black parents raised concerns about racial inequality and affordable housing, while school gun violence and drug/alcohol use topped the list for white parents,” said Patrick.

Concerns among parents differed by race and ethnicity. While education and school quality topped the list for both Black and white parents, more than 38 percent of Black parents listed racial inequality as a top concern for their children, and 28 percent also listed safe and affordable housing as a top concern.

The results on Tennessee parents’ top five concerns are the first in a series of polling data releases. Over the next several months, the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy will disseminate findings collected on array of other issues from mental health to COVID-19.

The concerns were part of the center’s fourth statewide annual poll covering a range of topics related to child health and well-being. Results were collected in the late fall of 2022 and will be shared over the next several months as further analysis is conducted.

The data, collected from a representative sample of Tennessee parents across each of the three regions in the state, will be collated and shared with the goal of informing the public and policymakers about the issues on parents’ minds in different regions and between different racial/ethnic groups in the state, Patrick said.

The poll is conducted annually and covers a range of issues including health insurance status, schooling, behavioral health, food security and access to health care. The research was funded in part by a grant from the Boedecker Foundation.

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