Researchers say five neighborhoods in Chattanooga have the highest percentage of children who may start off life at a disadvantage — downtown Chattanooga, the Ridgedale/Oak Grove area, East Chattanooga, South Chattanooga and Bushtown/Highland Park.
CHILDREN AT RISK
Percentage of births with four risk factors (low birthweight, single mother, no high school education, teen mother):
East Ridge: 0.7
Hickory Valley/Hamilton Place: 0.7
North Chattanooga/Hill City/UTC: 1.1
Riverview/Stuart Heights: 0.7
Lupton City/Norcross: 1.2
Westview/Mountain Shadows: 0.2
Bonny Oaks/Highway 58: 1.3
Harrison Bay: 0.5
East Brainerd: 0.3
Dallas Bay/Lakesite: 0.4
Northgate/Big Ridge: 1.3
Falling Water/Browntown: 0
Walden/Mowbray/Flat Top Mtn: 0.7
Mtn. Creek/Moccassin Bend: 0.6
Signal Mountain: 0
Ridgedale/Oak GroveClifton Hills: 4.2
Dupont/Murray Hills: 0.8
South Chattanooga: 3.0
Red Bank: 0.8
Bushtown/Highland Park: 2.8
Lookout Valley/Lookout Mountain: 0.3
Middle Valley: 0.7
Amnicola/East Chattanooga: 3.9
“Some of our statistics at the sub-county region are quite dismal,” said Eileen Robertson-Rehberg, director of data analysis and senior policy analyst with the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies and lead researcher of a recent report on early childhood in Chattanooga. The center provides research and data analysis for nonprofit and government organizations.
“The capacity for us to break the county up and say that, ‘This is where something needs to be targeted,’ gives us a better way of addressing the overall county statistics,” she said.
The report, which relied primarily on U.S. Census Bureau and Tennessee Department of Health data, looked at four risk factors for early childhood — children born into poverty, to teenage parents, to a single mother or to a mother who does not have a high school degree — that start children off at a disadvantage, Ms. Robertson-Rehberg said. The report’s goal is to give advocates and policymakers a better means to tackle problem areas, she said.
Compiled by the Ochs Center —formerly the Community Research Council — the report is one chapter of the 2008 State of the Chattanooga Region report, a follow-up to a similar 2006 analysis.
Over the next few months, the Ochs Center will release subsequent chapters focusing on education, crime, housing, the economy, the environment and health in the region, said David Eichenthal, president and CEO of the center.
The highly localized data is geared to help policymakers and advocates for children’s welfare better target their efforts, researchers said, and advocates said that idea is right on target.
“We know that those risk factors can occur any place in Hamilton County, but when the data is localized into (neighborhoods), it does help identify which communities need greater services,” said Marguerite Chambers, promotion manager for Parents Are First Teachers, a program of Hamilton County Social Services. The program provides basic parenting education for anyone who has a child under age 5.
Researchers pointed out that results of the analysis varied widely throughout the county. For example, low birthweight rates were more than 50 percent higher in the Amnicola/East Chattanooga area than the countywide rate of 11.1 percent, the report showed.
The study also compared Hamilton County to 13 similarly sized metropolitan regions, such as Madison, Ala., and Marion, Ore. Out of those areas, Hamilton County had the highest percentage of overall births to mothers between the ages of 10 and 19 at 14.7 percent, the report found.
The risk factors of teen pregnancy, single motherhood and the lack of a high school education are tied deeply to poverty rates, said Julie Baumgardner, executive director of First Things First, a nonprofit organization that aims to strengthen families in Hamilton County.
“It is absolutely a very devastating cycle, and breaking it is very difficult,” she said. “The health of our community is determined by the health of our families, so I think it behooves all of us to pay attention to this and to be proactive.”
Throughout the six-county Chattanooga region, more than 18 percent of children under age 6 live in poverty, according to the report.
Marion County, Tenn., has the highest countywide poverty rate for children under 6 at 20.7 percent. On a smaller scale, the highest rates of children living in poverty within the region are found in Chattanooga — with nearly 30 percent of children growing up impoverished — and in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., where the childhood poverty rate is nearly 54 percent.
Only two other comparably sized cities exceeded Chattanooga’s rate of poverty for youth — Columbia, S.C., and Lansing, Mich., the report stated.
State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said detailed, neighborhood-level statistics such as those included in the report reveal the root problems plaguing particular regions and allow policymakers to better address those concerns.
“The more focused that the data can be, I think it’s better for the analyst, whether it’s a social scientist or an elected political leader,” he said. “The more focused the data is the better analysis you can do on the data, and that of course helps you in your policy formation.”
Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...