A new national report ranks Tennessee among the five best states for screening low-income children for developmental issues.
Such screenings can pinpoint problems and reduce future healthcosts.
The report, "The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success," by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation, zeroes in on the health and educational foundations, as well as state policies, making recommendations for how states can do better.
While Tennessee did well on health screenings, the study found that the state has a high number of children under age 8 living in low-income homes. About 54 percent of the state's 8-year-olds live in low-income households, more than all but 10 other states.
The report examined third-graders nationwide on measures of academic, emotional and physical well-being, as well as schoolengagement but didn't compare students' performance by state. Only slightly more than a third of children nationally were found to have the math, reading and science skills to be on track to complete high school.
Just more than half were at a healthy weight and in "very good" to "excellent" health.
The foundation recommends a variety of policies to help young children, including more home visiting programs for young families — which Tennessee has been increasing — and better access to early care and education.
The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, which works closely with the national foundation, responded to the study by highlighting the state's longstanding use of a quality rating system for day cares, which parents can use when choosing among child care facilities. The foundation recommends such rating systems.
However, the commission also called attention to the low rate of prekindergarten enrollment among low-income children. Tennessee remains below the national average, the commission said.
"The good news is that we have a lot of the pieces," said Linda O'Neal, executive director. "What we don't have is a coordinated,unified approach (to early childhood care)."