Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report. 5.2 Characteristics of Tennessee's Children and Families


This section provides demographic statistics on Tennessee's children and families. Child welfare statistics are presented for Shelby County, which was the focus of the family preservation study in Tennessee.

There are approximately 1,300,000 children under age 18 in Tennessee, with the majority being white (76 percent), and two-thirds under twelve years old (Table 5-1).

Table 5-1. 
Age and race distribution of children in Tennessee
Total number of children under age 18 in 1997 1,324,800
Age %
0-5 years old 32
6-11 years old 32
12-14 years old 18
15-17 years old 18
Race/Ethnicity 1997  
White 76
African American 21
Hispanic 2
Other 1

Indicators of child health, education, and social and economic welfare in Tennessee as compared to the nation are presented in Table 5-2. Data have been abstracted from Kids Count Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. With respect to most indicators, Tennessee's families and children are similar to the national averages. The Casey Foundation developed a family risk index based on the following indicators: 1) number of children who are not living with two parents; 2) households in which the head of household did not have a high school degree; 3) family income below poverty level; 4) parents did not have steady employment; 5) the family was receiving welfare; and 6) no health insurance for the children. Using the Casey risk calculation, the percentage of children in Tennessee considered at risk is the same as in the nation as a whole, 14 percent.

Table 5-2. 
Indicators of children and family health, education, social and economic welfare in Tennessee as compared to Nation
  Tennessee Nation
Percent low birth weight babies (1996) 8.8% 7.4%
Infant mortality rate (deaths per 1,000 live births, 1996) 8.5 7.3
Percent of 2 year olds immunized (1997) 78% 78%
Percent of children without health insurance (1996) 13% 14%
Percent of children covered by Medicaid or other public-sector health insurance (1996) 35% 25%
Child death rate (deaths per 100,000 ages 1-14 in 1996) 30 26
Teen violent death rates (deaths per 100,000 ages 15-19 in 1996) 81 62
Teen birth rate (Births per 1,000 15-17 females in 1996) 40 34
Percent of teens who are high school dropouts (1998) 13% 10%
Percent of 4th grade students scoring below basic reading level (1998) 42% 39%
Percent of 8th grade students scoring below basic math reading level (1998) 29% 28%
Welfare, Social, and Economic:
Median income of families with children (1996) $33,500 $39,700
Percent of children in poverty (1996) 22% 20%
Percent of children in extreme poverty (1996)* 11% 9%
Percent of children living with parents who do not have full time employment (1996) 29% 30%
Percent of families with children headed by a single parent (1996) 29% 27%

Source: Kids Count Data Book, Published by Annie E. Casey Foundation, 1999.

* Extreme poverty is defined as income below 50 percent of poverty level.

Child Welfare Statistics for Shelby County. To provide background for the evaluation findings, an overview of the number of child abuse and neglect investigations and percent of indicated reports for fiscal years 1995–1998 is presented in Table 5-3. The number of children for whom there were abuse and neglect investigations shows a slight decrease in FY's 97 and 98. However, agency staff reported that lower abuse and neglect investigations may be due to administrative undercount rather than a decline in the number of children investigated. During those two years, administrative systems were being updated and the staff shortages in Shelby County resulted in data entry being a low priority. The percentage of cases substantiated remained fairly constant over the study years: FY 95, 36 percent; FY 96, 35 percent; FY 97, 41 percent; and FY98, 38 percent.

For all 4 years, children under one year of age had a slightly higher rate of substantiation than older children. Other than FY 96, males and females had similar rates of substantiation. Substantiation rates fluctuated by types of maltreatment within each year with failure to thrive, abandonment, educational neglect, physical abuse, substantial risk of physical injury, and substance affected infants being substantiated at higher rates.

Children in substitute care also remained fairly constant throughout the study period. In FY 95, the year prior to random assignment, 1,772 children were served. The number of children in care on the last day of each fiscal year rose slightly over the study years: 1,880 children in FY 96; 1,963 children in FY 97; and 1,943 children in FY 98.