If you’re a black child, you’re better off in a state with few people who look like you, such as Alaska or Idaho.

But for black children in the South, life comes with serious disadvantages, from low birth weights to lower graduation rates, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Race for Results Index released Tuesday.

Photo by Andrea Morales

A Tennessee address puts a black or Latino child in the bottom half of states surveyed, but ahead of neighboring states Mississippi and Arkansas.

“Conditions in the American South always have been especially difficult for African Americans,” researchers wrote. “While great strides have been made, it will require public will and greater investments to overcome the vestiges of institutional discrimination in this region.”

The report measures 12 areas, including the percentage of babies born at normal birth weight, 3–5 year olds in school, teens 15–19 who delay childbearing and children living in two-parent families. The report also takes into account 4th grade reading proficiency test scores, 8th grade math proficiency test scores and the percentage of children who live in low-poverty areas, defined as areas with a poverty rate of under 20 percent.

The report includes two measures: Rankings by state and index ratings on a scale of 1 to 1,000.

No state received a perfect index score for any racial group. But some races fared far better than others and some states far outranked others.

Nationally, the index rating puts Asians at the top (783), followed by whites (713), Latinos (429), American Indians (413) and blacks (369).

In the state-level rankings, Tennessee is the 31st worst state to live in for black children, with an index score of 346. The Volunteer State is the 39th worst (391) for Latino children, who can be of any race.

But while Tennessee’s ranking is even more grim for white children — it’s the 43rd worst — at 625, the state’s index score is more than 200 points higher than it is for children of color.

The news that Tennessee ranked so low for all children came as no surprise to Cardell Orrin, city director of Stand for Children. a national education advocacy organization.

“That matches up more closely to where we rank in terms of funding for education as a state,” Orrin said. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 survey of school system finances, Tennessee ranked 43rd in per pupil spending at $8,630.

“Even though we talk about what we want for our children and how we want to support them and invest in them, we’re clearly coming up short,” Orrin said.

Stand for Children’s answer is its new campaign, Momentum Memphis, whose goal is to get 10,000 residents to commit to taking two actions in the next year to support youth.

“People clearly care about education, but they have a challenge in how to get engaged, especially in advocacy at a system level.”

Momentum Memphis has four platform areas: Graduation success for college and career; community investment for youth success; facilities and funding our students deserve; and breaking the school to prison pipeline.

That pipeline could get stronger, worry some observers, given the plans of criminal justice officials to create a juvenile assessment center.

“The juvenile assessment center is kind of an indication of again, the lip service we pay to wanting to address the needs of all of our children,” Orrin said.

Schools, parents and law enforcement could refer children to the center, which would evaluate each child and either refer him or her to appropriate services or if the referral involves criminal allegations, detain the youth, according to a presentation made in mid-October.

During the presentation, Orrin said, the center’s proponents noted that “70 percent of children who come in contact with the juvenile justice system have diagnosable mental health issues.”

“While you might have psychologists say we need to do universal (mental health) screenings to know how we support all of our children, the only time we do it is when they interact with the juvenile justice system,” Orrin said.

Among the backers of the juvenile assessment center is Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael.

Along with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Shelby County Sheriff Tom Oldham, Michael called in June for the Department of Justice to end its oversight of Shelby County’s juvenile court. The DOJ has yet to respond to the request.

In September, Michael voiced his disdain for the DOJ with pointed criticism of the federal monitors. In 2012, a DOJ investigation found that the court failed to protect children from harm, failed to provide children with counsel and treated black children more harshly than white children at every stage of the process.

Today the court has made significant progress in protecting children from harm, according to the most recent federal monitor reports. About 60 percent of children have a public defender.

The court has made no progress in reducing the discrimination against black children.

In some areas, the federal monitor found, the discrimination has gotten worse.

This report is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today.