NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — A new report shows the state needs to do a better job caring for its children, it says we're falling behind when it comes to caring for our kids' health.
The well-being of Tennessee children has improved in many areas in the last 30 years, according to information in the KIDS COUNT® Data Book released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The reports shows, despite having been ranked in the 40s in earlier years, the state’s overall rankings in recent years have hovered in the mid-30s, including its ranking of 36th in the 2019 report.
However, the state’s ranking was also negatively affected by an increase in child and teen deaths driven by increases in suicide and homicide deaths, 60 percent of which involved firearms.
"It’s absolutely heartbreaking to hear the stories day in and day out and we're still not meeting all the needs that exist," said Rikki Harris.
Mental health affects every family at every age.
"According to statistics 300,000 kids are struggling right now in Tennessee with a mental health need," said Harris who is the executive director for Tennessee Voices for Children.
The organization provides families the resources they need to help their children overcome mental illness.
"Mental health is real, it’s treatable we don't need to live in silence about it, we do need to address it for the sake of our children," Harris said.
But the problem is affecting more Tennessee children than ever.
Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network shows a more than 24% increase in child suicide deaths from ages 10 to 17.
"This data really highlights the need for us to do even more," said Richard Kennedy/
Kennedy is the executive director with Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. He said the Kids Count the state is lagging behind others in children's overall health, especially mental illness.
Because of the alarming numbers Governor Lee has added $1.1 million to expand the state's partnership with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. This will help with prevention, outreach and awareness.
"We have a ways to go and I don't want to be dropping in rank because we're having more and more troubles with youth suicide, I want to see us getting better, said Harris.
Click here to read the full report.