NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TTCY) released a full breakdown on the state of each county’s child wellbeing, and News Channel 11 has compiled an overview of each county in our coverage area below.
Washington County ranked fifth-best among the state’s 95 counties, while Unicoi had the lowest ranking of Northeast Tennessee’s seven counties, placing 70th.
Washington County is the highest-ranked county within News Channel 11’s coverage area and is one of the highest-rated in the state. With top-ten placement in economic well-being and rankings within the top 20 for all other major sections, TTCY recommends a focus on improved graduation rates (54th) and decreased school suspensions (58th).
TTCY metrics are useful indicators for county administrators, nonprofits and institutions, TTCY communication specialist Kylie Graves told News Channel 11, but overall rankings don’t quite tell the whole story.
“They’re really helpful at painting a picture of where kids are, but it’s also – you don’t want someone to just pull ‘Oh we’re 95th and everything is bad about this county for children.'” Graves said. “Because the county who’s 95th also is performing really well in health.”
About 60% of Northeast Tennesseans live in Washington and Sullivan counties. The rankings showed Washington falling just below four of the state’s wealthiest counties (Williamson, Wilson, Rutherford and Sumner).
Sullivan County falls into the second quintile at 21st, but ranks above larger urban counties including Knox and Hamilton, while another similar-sized county, Madison, ranks dead last. The state’s two largest counties, Shelby and Davidson, are also in the bottom 10.
Among factors separating Washington and Sullivan are child poverty, reading and math proficiency and instances of substantiated abuse and neglect per 1,000 population. Washington County ranks 11th best in child poverty (15.1%), 4th and 17th-best in reading and math proficiency for 3rd through 8th graders (38.1% and 35.9%) and 16th best in abuse and neglect (3.9/1,000).
Sullivan County is 47th-best in child poverty at 20.7%, 29th and 48th in reading and math (29.5% and 28%) and 58th in abuse and neglect with a rate of 6.5 — 66% higher than Washington County’s.
On the other hand, only 3.9% of Sullivan County’s children don’t have health insurance, making it second-best statewide. The figure in Washington County is 4.5%, ranking it 18th. That helped give Sullivan County an overall health ranking that is 4th-highest in the state compared to Washington County’s 20th.
Out of Tennessee’s 95 counties, each one is ranked as follows. The overall ranking is calculated by determining how key indicators vary below or above the state average, then adding them up to see just how far those metrics differ from the state as a whole:
Carter – 35th
- Economic Well-Being: 48th
- Education: 63rd
- Family & Community: 25th
- Health: 17th
With Carter County nearing the top third of counties, the TTCY reported that the county ranks fourth for child health insurance coverage. While Carter County’s fair market rent was found to be $874, TTCY said the county’s low median income (74th) could prove challenging to families. Carter County also saw a lower percentage of births to unmarried females (28th), which TTCY says can be a strong predictor of childhood poverty and outcomes.
Greene – 38th
- Economic Well-Being: 58th
- Education: 52nd
- Family & Community: 63rd
- Health: 9th
Greene County is within the top half of counties in terms of child well-being. Greene County reported no child or teen deaths in the sample year of 2019, netting the county 1st rank among other 0-death counties in the state. Areas to improve shared by the TTYC included high school suspension rates (71st) and one of the lower median incomes (82nd) in the state.
Johnson – 34th
- Economic Well-Being: 76th
- Education: 44th
- Family & Community: 28th
- Health: 18th
Johnson County is one rank closer to the top third than Carter County, with no 2019 child or teen deaths and no school suspensions in the 2020-21 school year. Fair market rent in the county is reported to be 1st at $809, but this comes alongside a rank 84 median household income of $43,039 and more than a fourth (26.9%) of children living in poverty (85th).
Sullivan – 21st
- Economic Well-Being: 45th
- Education: 31st
- Family & Community: 65th
- Health: 4th
Sullivan County ranked 2nd in the state for child insurance coverage, with only 3.9% of children going without. The county also had a lower percentage than average of low-weight babies, landing in the top 25.
Areas to improve listed by the agency included a high rate of student suspensions county-wide, with that indicator placing 76th in the state. Sullivan County also saw 6.5 substantiated abuse and neglect reports per thousand residents, ranking 58th behind other counties that saw fewer reports.
Unicoi – 70th
- Economic Well-Being: 55th
- Education: 57th
- Family & Community: 57th
- Health: 78th
Unicoi County rests slightly above the bottom quarter of counties and is the lowest-ranked county in News Channel 11’s coverage area. With a higher-than-average child insurance rate and low housing costs, the county had middle-of-the-pack rankings in all but health. TTCY’s profile recommends a closer look at the county’s high child and teen death rate (87th), but also specifies that this rate can vary in low-population counties.
Washington – 5th
- Economic Well-Being: 8th
- Education: 13th
- Family & Community: 13th
- Health: 20th
The three key indicators in each of the four sections provide a wide view of county sectors, and Graves said childhood conditions often impact each other.
“With these profiles, you can see how each indicator is so intertwined with child well-being and they rely on one another,” Graves said. “Is the child being suspended because of certain behaviors at the school system’s fault, or do they have an undiagnosed, untreated condition because they don’t have health insurance? Similarly, when we look at median household income compared to rent that then factors into childhood poverty, and if the kids are worried about finding food or finding housing or anything like that, are they really able to engage in those reading and math classes? So, it all becomes intertwined.”
For a full breakdown of each county’s performance, stick with WJHL.com.
This story will be updated with links to each county breakdown, as well as other relevant data.