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Kids Count State of the Child: Are Tennessee Children Prepared to Learn?

Tennessee Commission on Children and YouthNashville, TN – At the beginning of the school year, children wait for the school bus or in the drop-off lane for their first experience of school. Many of them arrive with the skills they need to learn. Many, however, arrive with gaps in the foundation for learning that must be filled so they can make the most of their experience.

Children do not enter school as blank slates, each equally impressionable to educators’ efforts. Children enter school with figurative backpacks. Some children come with an eagerness to learn, good health, emotional security and a sense of safety fostered by a supportive family and community. Others come without important tools for learning and already weighed down by the trauma of poverty, hunger, violence or abuse.

Kids Count State of the Child in Tennessee

The latest edition of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth’s KIDS COUNT: The State of the Child in Tennessee report focuses on the importance of making sure children arrive at school with the cognitive, social and emotional skills they need to learn.

More than half the expenditures for children through the Tennessee state budget go to education, mostly for educating children ages 6 or older. The return on investment for this spending depends on the foundation formed in students’ first five years.

During this critical time, children either develop the skills they need to learn or learn to cope with adversity in ways that undermine their opportunities for success in school and in life.

“The building blocks of learning – sensory awareness; motor and language skills; and social, emotional and cognitive abilities – are assembled through a process of nurturing interaction. Children develop best when they have access to health and mental health care and enriching environments,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY).

Ongoing research reinforces the importance of the early years when brain cell connections are developed – social and creative stimulation exercises the “muscles” of these connections. Trauma, lack of health care, stress caused by families’ child-care problems and erratic job schedules, inadequate nutrition, and a range of other conditions can combine to create a shaky foundation for learning.

The report expands on the work of the Tennessee Children’s Cabinet and the Early Childhood Advisory Council’s School Readiness Model, a compilation of elements needed to prepare children for K-12 education:  Ready Communities, Ready Schools, Ready Families.

Policy recommendations in the State of the Child report include:

  • Accepting federal Medicaid expansion funds;
  • Expanding voluntary, high-quality pre-K opportunities for all at-risk Tennessee children;
  • Expanding home visitation programs providing support to new parents;
  • Developing strategies to prevent or reduce the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences that cause toxic stress.

“We welcome the state’s application for much-needed federal pre-K funds for Nashville and Shelby County and steps to implement a Tennessee plan for Medicaid expansion to provide health care for Tennesseans left in the gap between coverage by the state’s current Medicaid program and the Affordable Care Act,” O’Neal said. “Tennessee is giving away $4.7 million federal funds every single day by rejecting Medicaid expansion.”

[320right[The report, published annually, also lists county-by-county health, education, child welfare, demographic, economic and other data on Tennessee’s children.

KIDS COUNT: The State of the Child 2013 is available on TCCY’s website at www.tn.gov/tccy/kc-soc13.pdf.

Interactive information from the book and additional data on child well being for all states is also available at http://datacenter.kidscount.org

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is a small state agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families. Partial funding for TCCY’s KIDS COUNT program is provided through a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to disadvantaged children.

For more information, contact 615.741.2633 or a TCCY regional coordinator.

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