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Report: Children in TN experience adversity more than other kids across the country

The 2022 State of the Child Report said Black children in Tennessee are almost twice as likely to have at least two "adverse experiences" as white children.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Wednesday, Tennessee leaders released the 2022 State of the Child report. The report explores the demographics of different generations across the state and the conditions they're growing up in.

The report found that Generation Alpha is the most diverse in Tennessee so far. They said around one in eight Tennessee children are part of an immigrant family, and around one in ten speak a language other than English at home. Around eight in 10 also live in their biological parent's home.

Around one in 19 have cognitive difficulties, and around one in 80 have self-care difficulties, according to the report. Around a quarter of all children in the state live in a neighborhood that does not have parks, recreation centers, sidewalks or libraries. Just under a quarter live in a neighborhood with all four amenities, they said.

The report also said that Tennessee children experience adversity at a higher level than their counterparts across the U.S. They said researchers began examining broader definitions of adversity, including the role of community environments.

"Early adversity can have significant impacts on future health, social development, academic success and economic prosperity," they said. "Whether those experiences occur in the household or community, they are damaging."

The questions the report asked regarding adversity are listed below.

To the best of your knowledge, has this child ever experienced the following:

  • Parent or guardian who got divorced or separated?
  • Parent or guardian died?
  • Parent or guardian served time in jail?
  • Live with anyone who was mentally ill, suicidal, or severely depressed?
  • Lived with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs?
  • Victim of violence or witnessed violence in neighborhood?
  • Treated or judged unfairly because of their race or ethnic group?
  • Treated or judged unfairly because of their sexual orientation or gender, 6-17 years?
  • Since this child was born, how often has it been very hard to cover the basics, like food or housing, on your family’s income?

They said 41.3% of all children in Tennessee faced at least one adverse experience, compared to 38.8% across the U.S. They also said Black children in the state are nearly twice as likely to have at least two adverse experiences as white children.

The report also said adverse experiences inside households are the most common among Tennessee children, compared to community experiences. They said more than a third of children between 12 -17 years old reported some level of household adversity.

They also said one in nine children in Tennessee who report adverse experiences had a parent or guardian who served time in jail. The national average is one in 16, the report said.

They said every indicator of household adversity was also more common among Tennessee youth compared to national averages. They said children were more than one in ten of all Tennessee domestic violence victims in 2021.

They also said around one in six Tennessee high school girls said they experienced physical dating violence in 2019 — much higher than anywhere else in the nation and almost twice the national rate. Around one in ten of all high schools reported experiencing sexual violence.

Their families were also more likely to face issues paying for basic necessities, like food or housing.

While child poverty rates declined from 2019 to 2021 in Tennessee, it was still higher than the national rate. Tennessee reported 18.1% of children in poverty, while the U.S. average is 16.9% of children. Cocke, Hawkins and Monroe counties saw some of the most significant declines in child poverty.

They said federal investments like the Child Tax Credit helped lift around 2.91 million U.S. children out of poverty.

Around 25% of all Tennesseans are spending more than 30% of their income on rent or mortgages, according to the report. More than half of all people in the state making less than $50,000 per year were considered housing cost-burdened.

The report also found that Tennessee has the highest rate of foster care instability in the nation — far exceeding any other state. The report said moving kids between so many homes can be especially re-traumatizing for children in the child welfare system.

The U.S. saw a 14.9% instability rate in 2020 — a decrease from the year before. That same year though, Tennessee's rate rose to 33.7%, beating out Puerto Rico which ranked second place at a 25.9% instability rate.

"These problems won't happen if we have a good, thoughtful discussion before putting children in a placement," said Representative Gloria Johnson (D - Knoxville). "But we're losing placements because they don't have that support."

The report also found that affordable and accessible child care is hard to find in Tennessee. They said the cost of center-based care for an infant and 4-year is 81% higher than the average annual rent in the state. Almost all parents in the report said inadequate child care hurt their work productivity or career opportunities.

It said Tennessee lost around $2.6 billion in 2022 due to the insufficient child care system.

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