KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Child care challenges are far too familiar across our country and state. The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count Data Book highlighting was experts are calling a crisis.

Tennessee ranks 36th in child well-being according to the data book. This is the same rank that Tenn. received in 2022. The report developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzes how children and families are faring. According to Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth or TCCY, the report provides a guide for the state to invest in children and families.

“The data contained in this report is valuable to us and all Tennesseans. It serves as a critical guide to support Tennessee as we look at areas we are doing well and how we can bolster that work and where we can come together as a state to do better by our children, youth and families,” said Richard Kennedy, executive director of Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, Tennessee’s member of the KIDS COUNT network.

While child care is infamously expensive, the report says caregivers are paid worse than 98% of other professions. In addition, Tennessee’s average annual cost of center-based child care for a toddler in 2021 was $7,934. That is 27% of a single mother’s income in the state and 8% of the median income for a married couple.

The report also highlighted that many parents in Tennessee struggle to find child care that is compatible with work schedules and commutes. According to the report, 12% of children aged birth to 5 in Tennessee lived in families where someone had to quit, change, or refuse a job due to childcare problems in 2020-21. This is a bit lower than the 13% national average. Additionally, women are five to eight times more likely than men to face negative employment outcomes due to caregiving responsibilities.

“A good child care system is essential for kids to thrive and our economy to prosper. But our current approach fails kids, parents, and child care workers by every measure,” said Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Without safe child care they can afford and get to, working parents face impossible choices, affecting not only their families, but their employers as well.”

Some encouraging news from the report is that Tennessee saw an improvement in the percentage of children living in poverty. The 2021 child poverty rate is 18%, this is the lowest rate the state has seen, bringing it nearly in line with the national average of 17%.

“In Tennessee, we really are seeing a reduction in children living in poverty or high-poverty areas. And so we know that is so critical to long-term success for children to have those basic needs met,” said Kennedy.

Every year, the Date Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors. The states are then ranked based on how children are faring overall. To read the full report, click here.

The report also includes recommendations on how to improve the well-being of children in Tennessee. Recommendations in the report include:

  • Federal, state, and local governments should invest more in child care. State and local governments should maximize remaining pandemic recovery act dollars to fund needed child care services and capacity. Child care is a part of the critical infrastructure needed for an engaged workforce and a prosperous Tennessee. Innovative solutions to address the cost and availability of care are desperately needed.
  • Public and private leaders should work together to improve the infrastructure for home-based child care, beginning by lowering the barriers to entry for potential providers by increasing access to start-up and expansion capital.
  • To help young parents, Congress should expand the federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, which serves student parents.”