KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The well-being of children in the state is changing, with a recent report finding both positive and negative changes happening over the last few years.
The Tennessee Commission on Children & Youth and Tennessee State Government has released its 2022 State of the Child report, which captures trends in children’s well-being in the state. The report breaks down research on six factors that influence children’s well-being, including: demographics, special topics (such as communities and COVID-19), economics, education, health, and child welfare and youth justice.
Among some of the more concerning findings was that the cost of child cares for an infant and a 4-year-old in Tennessee was 81% higher than the average annual rent across all housing types, that in 2020, 64 percent of children who were uninsured remained uninsured despite being eligible for coverage, and that at least 41 percent of children in the state have had at least one adverse experience.
Some more promising findings were also found. According to the report, over eight of 10 Tennessee students attend a public school, and nine out of 10 Tennessee children live with their in their biological parent’s home or in their grandparent’s home. The report’s statistics also show that each generation of Tennesseans has grown increasingly more diverse, with generation alpha being the most racially diverse generation yet.
Mental health was also a heavily concentrated topic in the report, saying that the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds reported having 14 or more days of poor mental health is now over 28 percent, and the trend has been increasing over the last three years. As of mid-November 2022, an estimated 215,700 children nationwide lost one or both of their caregivers and 231,100 lost a primary caregiver, according to the report.
While much of the discussion around mental health focused on COVID-19-related issues, the report also pointed out issues of suicide among high school students and emergency room visits among adolescent girls. In the 12 months before the survey that the report referenced, one in five students seriously considered taking their own life, over one in seven made a plan of how they would end their life, and one in 11 attempted to end their life. The report also stated that a study comparing weekly emergency room department visits between 2019 and January 2022 found an increase in visits for anxiety, trauma, stressor-related eating disorders, OCD and tic disorders.
Another positive change noted in the report was the decline of child poverty between 2019 and 2021. In 2011, the state average of 26.3 percent dropped to 19.7 percent in 2019 and 18.1 percent in 2021. Statewide, six counties saw a significant drop in child poverty between 2019 and 2021, including three East Tennessee counties, which saw a drop of nearly 25%. Those counties were:
- Marshall – 20.8%
- Smith – 24.7%
- Sequatchie – 26/3%
- Bledsoe – 28.8%
- Monroe – 22%
- Cocke – 26.6%
- Hawkins – 24.6%
The report also detailed concerning risk behaviors in teens, such as 33 percent did not always wear a seat belt, 21 percent texted or e-mailed while driving a vehicle, 3.5 percent carried a gun and 3.3 percent carried a weapon on school property, 16 percent were in a physical fight and 13 percent were bullied on school property.