The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth has released its County Profiles of Child Well-Being in Tennessee for 2023. The profiles include county-level measures on 52 indicators and county ranks in important areas affecting child development: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Each profile provides an analysis of the county’s strengths and challenges and policy recommendations to improve outcomes.
Though the profiles are released annually, the 2023 County Profiles in Child Well-Being use several new indicators in the county ranks, so they are not comparable to previous years’ ranks. Newly included are child care cost burden, severe housing cost burden, chronic absenteeism, food insecurity, the percent of children in single parent families and the number of victims of abuse or neglect.
Cheatham County ranked No. 8 overall among Tennessee’s 95 counties in the report. Cheatham ranked second in economic well-being and 14th in health, while ranking 22nd in family & community and 61st in education.
“Cheatham’s strongest indicator is in the percent of households in the county experiencing a severe housing cost burden, where the county ranks third. The county also performs well in the percent of children who are food insecure at 6.9%,” the report reads in part.
Data is primarily from 2021 and 2022. Some indicators show substantial volatility year to year, especially in rural counties with fewer people where small changes in actual numbers of events can cause large changes in rates, though reducing that variability was one of the goals of changing some of the indicators
Key indicators include:
- Statewide 18.4 percent of children were living in poverty in 2021. The lowest percentage was in Williamson County (3.9 percent) and the highest percentage was in Hancock County (42.6 percent).
- Child care cost burden, defined as child care costs for a household with two children as a percent of median household income, is 23.9 percent in Tennessee. The county with the highest child care cost burden is Lake at 40.1 percent and the lowest is Williamson at 11.9 percent.
- Across Tennessee 6.0 percent of children were uninsured in 2020, an increase from 2019. The lowest rate was 4.1 percent in Sullivan County. The highest was in Pickett County, where they experienced an increase from 6.9 percent in 2019 to 10.1 percent in 2020.
- Tennessee’s rate of children who were victims of abuse or neglect was 10.2 per 1,000 in 2021. Clay County had the highest rate at 33.9 and Moore County had the lowest at 0.8 per 1,000.
Comparing data across counties provides a glimpse into the varying needs of each county and the considerably different experience, access to resources and supports a child may have in one county compared to another. Comparing the strongest performing counties to those facing the greatest challenges shows differences that are often more than a factor of 10. A child in the lowest performing county is half as likely to be proficient in TCAP Reading than the state average. A child in Perry County is almost 10 times as likely to be chronically absent from school than a child in Blount. In the five counties with the highest rates of abuse or neglect, we see rates of greater than 28 per 1,000.
Though some counties perform better in comparison to the others in child care cost burden, this indicator is a major challenge for all of Tennessee. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines affordable child care as 7 percent of a household’s income. With a state average of 23.9 percent, and the best performing county at 11.9 percent, affordability is a challenge for every county in Tennessee.
“As an agency, we are always working to improve the well-being of children, youth and families across the state,” said Richard Kennedy executive director of Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “These county profiles always serve as a reminder that the experience, opportunities, and access to positive outcomes can look vastly different for each child in Tennessee.”
The counties ranked in the top 10 are Williamson, Wilson, Sumner, Rutherford, Blount, Moore, Weakley, Cheatham, Smith and Decatur. The counties with the greatest opportunities for improvement are Lake, Haywood, Shelby, Hancock, Hardeman, Lauderdale, Madison, Davidson, Campbell and Grainger.
A full list of county profiles can be found online at www.tn.gov/tccy/data-and-research/county-profiles.html.