TSD Memphis

Wed04162014

News

Poverty is leading indicator in child well-being

In 1968, Memphis had the highest infant mortality rate in the country, a fact that troubled Dr. Sheldon Korones, a pioneering neonatologist who left a lucrative private practice to establish the New Born Center at the Regional Center at Memphis... In 1968, Memphis had the highest infant mortality rate in the country, a fact that troubled Dr. Sheldon Korones, a pioneering neonatologist who left a lucrative private practice to establish the New Born Center at the Regional Center at Memphis.

About 47,000 premature babies have been treated at the neonatal intensive care unit since Dr. Korones founded it 40 years ago. Although the survival rate has improved slightly, the infant mortality rate still frustrates the neonatologist.

For example, in the 38108 zip code area, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis, “the infant mortality rate is four times the national average and worse than that of many Third World countries.”

The infant mortality rate in Tennessee was tied with Louisiana at 47th between 2000 - 2003. Only Delaware and Mississippi lagged behind.    

This year, Tennessee ranks 46th in overall child well-being within the 50 states — including the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — compared to 43rd last year, according to the annual KIDS COUNT National Data Book, a project funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Casey Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropic foundation for disadvantaged children, was established in 1948 by Jim Casey, one of the founders of United Parcel Service, and his siblings, George, Harry and Marguerite, in honor of their mother.

The data book is a national and state-by-state initiative to track the status of children in the U.S. The data is used to measure the educational, social, economic, and physical well-being of American children.

“It’s designed to help states to know their ranking in child well-being and where each state needs to improve,” said Pam Brown, director of the Tennessee KIDS COUNT Project with the Tennessee Commission on Children & Youth. The TCCY is an independent agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly.

Brown said the data from KIDS COUNT could be used by legislators, state officials and community leaders seeking to identify resources and programs to help children and families.

“What we know (from the data) starts at the community level,” said Brown. “They take dollars at this level to benefit children and families. Ultimately, the community benefits.”

The 10 KIDS COUNT measures are: 1) infant mortality rate; 2) percent of teens who are high school dropouts; 3) percent low birth-weight babies; 4) child death rate; 5) teen birth rate; 6) rate of teen deaths by accident, homicide, and suicide; 7) percent of teens not attending school and not working; 8) percent of children in poverty; 9) percent of children living with parents who do not have full-time, year-round employment; and 10) percent of families with households headed by a single-parent.

Tennessee experienced setbacks in five indicators and saw no change in two measures since 2000. The five setbacks are:

•Percent low-birth weight babies, a two percent increase from 9.2 in 2000 to 9.4 in 2003. The state ranks 45th in the nation in this category.

•Infant mortality rate (deaths per 1,000 live births), a two percent increase from 9.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 9.3 deaths in 2003. The national rate was 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births between 2000-2003. Nationally, the state ranks 47th overall in this category.

•Percent of children in poverty: 20 percent in 2000 compared to 21 percent in 2004. For children under age 6, the percentage is higher. The state’s national ranking in this category: 36th.

•Percent of children in single-parent families. In 2000, 33 percent of children lived in single-parent families compared to 34 in 2004. This category saw an increase of three percent, and the state ranks 37th overall in the nation. 

•Percent of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. In 2000, the percent was 32 compared to 34 in 2004. The state ranks 29th in the nation in this category.

There were no changes between 2000-2004 for the categories Percent of teens who are high school dropouts (ages 16-19) and Percent of teens not attending school and not working (ages 16-19). The national state ranking is 45th and 42nd respectively.

According to the data book, which was first published in 1990 and based in Baltimore, Md., the state improved in three out of 10 measures that reflect child well-being:

•The child death rate (deaths per 100,000 children ages 1-14) in Tennessee dropped 11 percent between 2000-2003. In 2003, 25 of every 100,000 children died in Tennessee, down from 28 three years prior. The state is ranked 36th in the nation in this category.

•The teen death rate (deaths per 100,000 teens ages 15-19) in the state dropped 16 percent between 2000-2003. In 2003, 76 out of 100,000 teens died compared to 90 three years prior. Tennessee ranking: 32nd in the nation.

•The teen birth rate (births per 1,000 females ages 15-19) dropped 10 percent in the state, from 59 births per 1,000 in 2000 to 53 in 2003. The state currently ranks 41st in the nation in this category compared to 39th in 2000.

Brown said the KIDS COUNT data is not broken down by race.

Gwendolyn Wright, TCCY’s regional coordinator for Memphis and Shelby County, said her office disseminates information from KIDS COUNT to businesses, organizations and the general public to help stave off the high infant mortality rate and other societal ills.  

Wright also said low-birth weight is associated with smoking, which leads to infant mortality. She said the infant mortality rate soars when there is a lack of prenatal care.

Although Tennessee has the highest infant mortality rate in the United States, Shelby County is Tennessee’s hotbed of infant mortality.

“We’re trying to spread the word that women should get prenatal care. This is something we’ve known about, but the message is somehow getting lost,” Wright said.

On April 21, Gov. Phil Bredesen and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. convened the 2006 Infant Mortality Summit at the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis to address this staggering problem.

Wright said, in her opinion, there should be a one-stop shop for prenatal care, food stamps and vouchers available in the neighborhood for women who’re grappling with this problem.

She said the Memphis and Shelby County TCCY has a two-fold plan to get the word out (data from KIDS COUNT) and to make it accessible.

The KIDS COUNT National Data Book is available on the Internet at www.kidscount.org or through TCCY’s Website at www.tennessee.gov/tccy.

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