NASHVILLE—Following the release of a report ranking Tennessee 36th in overall child well-being, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) called on his legislative colleagues and the Haslam Administration to focus more effectively on the needs of the state’s youth.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation this week issued a report ranking states based on four factors related to children: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community support. “The good news is we’ve improved significantly across the board in health and education, but we need to improve in critical areas where more reform is needed. We pride ourselves in being number one in all sorts of categories,” Norris said Thursday. “But we need to do better when it comes to the next generation of Tennesseans. Our children need to be nurtured as though our very lives depend upon them, because they do.”
Norris said more needs to be done to fund education, reform the juvenile justice system, and improve nutrition in order to substantially improve. In 2014, Norris spearheaded a national workforce development and education initiative called “State Pathways to Prosperity” in his former capacity as chairman of the Council of State Governments (CSG), which will hold its national convention in Nashville from Dec. 10 to Dec. 13.
Norris says the link between each state’s economic performance and quality-of-life hinges on the degree to which children’s needs and potential are addressed.
One of his areas of focus has been juvenile recidivism. Norris obtained private funding for a study by the CSG Justice Center earlier this year, which revealed an urgent need for Tennessee to do better at keeping youth out of jail.
“The state is not adequately capturing the data needed to avoid the revolving door of juvenile incarceration,” Norris said. “And it is not impacting the underlying causes of juvenile delinquency, which often stem from the neurological consequences of the toxic environments too many Tennessee children find themselves in today.”
Norris also spearheaded startup funding for the Center for Justice Involved Youth at the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences this year.
Norris will also lead a team of judges, juvenile administrators, and legislators at a summit in Austin, TX in November. Sponsored by the CSG Justice Center and the MacArthur Foundation, this first-of-its-kind, invitation-only forum intends to help key policymakers in all 50 states develop or improve plans to reduce recidivism and improve other outcomes for youth based on evidence-based practices.
“Anything less is cultivating a culture of malaise and mediocrity,” said Norris. “Address it now, or pay for it later when the price may be too high and it’s too late.”