State of the Child report: One in five Tennessee children younger than five live in poverty

Published 9:08 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Tennessee’s “State of the Child” 2023 report shows some progress, but also highlights ongoing areas of concern. From the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the report examines kids’ health and mental health, education, family economics, child care and the state’s child-welfare and youth-justice data.
Kylie Graves, director of policy and legislative affairs for the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, said a key finding is that, among children of all age groups, those younger than five are most likely to live in poverty. The proportion of those children living in poverty has increased to one in five.
“We did see in 2022 17.6% of children in Tennessee lived below the federal poverty line,” Graves said. “That is still too high and too many of our kids, but it is closer to the national average than we’ve ever been. Nationally, that number was 16.3%.”
Graves said the report showed between 2019 and 2021, the number of children in poverty declined. But between 2021 and 2022 among Tennessee kids younger than age five, it increased to 20%. However, the increase or decrease associated with the child poverty rate over the last couple of years was not due to pandemic assistance.
Richard Kennedy, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, said the report highlights the continued decline in teen risk behaviors such as substance use, but mental health challenges have continued to increase. He pointed out that the Tennessee General Assembly has focused on increasing resources for access to mental health.
“We know that access to high-quality, easily accessible mental health services, especially those that are in school-based settings, can really provide those additional supports and services for young people, as they grow into adults that will help them be more successful, better citizens going forward,” Kennedy explained.
Graves said the report finds progress in child welfare and neglect, including Tennessee’s extended foster care, giving young people more time in the system and smoother entry into adulthood.
“In fiscal year 2023, 369 youths accepted extension of foster-care services; that’s the second-largest number ever accepted,” said Graves. “So, we’re seeing that program expand, which just means that we’re helping more and more kids bridge that transition that can be really challenging, and can be a cause of a lot of negative social behaviors.”
Graves emphasized that Tennessee’s rate of substance-exposed newborns is well below the national average, and the state has a successful “plan of safe care” program that helps keep mothers and babies together safely. Nearly 99% of these infants have such a plan, which is much higher than the national average of 70.4%, the report said.

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