ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Tennessee Commission on Childhood and Youth (TCCY) released a profile ranking the wellbeing of children in all 95 counties state-wide, and News Channel 11 is compiling the results of every county in our coverage area.

Counties are stacked based on their total Z-score, meaning that counties that perform better than average on certain key indicators are ranked higher on the list. Key indicators factored into the ranking can be found on the first page of the TCCY’s profile, and secondary indicators are listed on the following page.

Unicoi County

Unicoi County ranks 70th overall for childhood wellbeing, according to TCCY data, the lowest of News Channel 11’s coverage area.

Economic Well-Being – 55th

22% of children and youths in Unicoi County lived in poverty during the TCCY’s sample year of 2020, placing the county in 57th place. Rents in the county were lower than most others, with a fair market rent of $874 and rank of 28. A low median household income compared to the rest of the state may counteract those low housing costs at $45,635 yearly or 70th place.

In secondary indicators, 57.5% of children under five were receiving WIC assistance in 2020. This number, compared to the state average of 26.4%, means only two other counties had higher percentages of children receiving the benefit at 93rd.

Education – 57th

Reading and math proficiency for 3rd to 8th graders was below average in both categories, with reading in 61st rank and math in 52nd rank. A 91.3% graduation rate placed Unicoi County at 56th in the state.

The county saw relatively low absenteeism across all systems, placing the secondary indicator at 24th in the state. An expulsion count of 0 means that Unicoi County sits tied at 1st rank with other counties that had no expelled students in 2020.

It’s important to note that these metrics are measured across the entire county and make no distinction between city and county schools.

Health – 78th

Child health is Unicoi County’s lowest-performing metric by TCCY data, largely informed by a high child and teen death rate at 87th. A high percentage of children in the county are covered by health insurance, earning Unicoi County the rank of 26th. Nearly 10% of children born within 2020 were considered underweight, placing the county at 75th.

In secondary indicators, TCCY data shows that 19.2% of children born in 2020 were born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy, 76.4% higher than the state average. Unicoi County was the 5th highest-ranked in lead poisoning screenings administered to children under six, reaching over 22%.

Family & Community – 57th

Unicoi County had a lower-than-average school suspension rate at 42nd, with TCCY data indicating that 1.1% of students county-wide were suspended during their 2019-2020 school year. At 6.7 out of every 1,000 children, Unicoi had a higher rate of substantiated abuse than the state average at 60th. The county’s lowest Family & Community key indicator was the percentage of children born to unmarried women, ranking 76th. TCCY data scientists told News Channel 11 that the 48.9% of Unicoi County children born to single mothers in 2020 have a higher chance of living in poverty.

Secondary indicators in the county show a high rate of reported child abuse cases with 201 in 2020, 37% higher than the state average. The percentage of children committed to state custody was less than half the state average, placing Unicoi County 7th in the state.

Conclusions

The TCCY identified potential areas of improvement in their report, stating that Unicoi County sits just above the bottom quarter of Tennessee counties for child well-being. To move the needle on child and teen deaths, the profile suggests the adoption of more rigorous safety enforcement for car seats, seat belts and other safety equipment. Additionally, the TCCY explained that rising child homicide and suicide rates may be partially addressed by proper storage and safety surrounding firearms at home.

For single-mother birth rates, the profile encourages the use of a comprehensive sex education program that encourages abstinence and explains uses for birth control.

This is one story in a series. Stay with WJHL.com and News Channel 11 for ongoing profiles of each Tennessee county in our coverage area.