If readers take away any message from our examination of this year’s National KIDS COUNT Data Book report, we hope it will be that we as a community and state have much work to do in meeting the basic needs of our young people.
The report ranks how well children are cared for in four basic areas, including their families’ financial circumstances, health care, education and community. For the better part of three years now, children in Tennessee have been behind the curve in most of these areas, and in no major category was Tennessee even near the top half in child well-being compared with other states.
As a whole, the state was 36th overall for the second year in a row and topped out at 30th place in child health.
To spell it out in black and white is, perhaps, a sobering exercise, but essentially this means that community leaders, nonprofits and government agencies in 35 other states in the union are doing a better job at caring for and meeting the needs of some of their most vulnerable residents than we are in caring for our own in Tennessee.
To put it mildly, this is and should be considered unacceptable, especially as we contemplate the many tangible symbols of wealth that we see across the state, in East Tennessee and even in Loudon County. Parts of Lenoir City and the city of Loudon — where people are clearly struggling just to raise kids and make ends meet — stand in stark contrast to the numerous and seemingly insular million-dollar resort communities dotting the landscape.
For sure, while some local churches, nonprofits, individual volunteers and community leaders are entrenched in boots-on-the-ground work to assist in bolstering the lives of young people, helping to break the cycle of addiction in certain adults and working with parents to give them a leg up in this recovering economy, from our perspective not enough people who possess the resources to make a real difference in this community are stepping into the fight.
Churches should be offering more programs for youth and parents to become engaged with the community and with each other; nonprofits should be working to treat the root causes of child abuse and neglect, not just reacting to the symptoms once a flare-up occurs; individuals should be coming to volunteer and support organizations like Court Appointed Special Advocates, Good Samaritan Center and other agencies that work directly with struggling families.
Given the pure volume of wealth and resources all around us, it escapes reason how we can continue to allow kids to slip through the cracks. Yet, this is and has been the story in East Tennessee for years.
When will we realize as a county, state and nation that the overall health and standard of living of the community is inexplicably linked to the well-being of our children? Simply put, if the basic needs of kids are not being met, they stand to fare worse in school, which drags down performance in the local educational system. This, in turn, could deter high-tech industries from targeting Loudon County as a choice destination to bring well-paying jobs and additional property tax revenues.
We have found that, by and large, most students in this county, even those who are in difficult family situations, are decent kids and are more than capable of succeeding in life in spite of their individual circumstances.
Our job as adults is to do everything within our power to give them that chance.