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From Crisis to Opportunity: Responding to the Growing Economic Crisis for Knoxville’s Marginalized Children

From Crisis to Opportunity: Responding to the Growing Economic Crisis for Knoxville’s Marginalized Children

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The extent of child poverty in Knoxville has reached crisis levels. The Kirwan Institute was commissioned to assess the opportunities available to Knoxville’s children, particularly those in concentrated poverty and racially isolated neighborhoods. Because neighborhoods are a critical point of intervention to expand opportunities for economically vulnerable and marginalized kids, they are analyzed and discussed at length. The report incorporates several interviews with local stakeholders to provide onthe- ground context regarding the challenges facing Knoxville’s most vulnerable children. We found that children in the most distressed communities of Knoxville face multiple barriers to opportunity, including safe and stable housing, access to health care, high quality education, viable transportation, healthy food, and encouragement.

There are people ready and willing to help in Knoxville, and some good programs in place. It is time for these people and programs to be aligned to fight the structural causes of generational child poverty, including neighborhood segregation and poor educational outcomes. The structure of poverty in Knoxville matters. Over 85% of Knoxville’s minority children live in high-poverty neighborhoods. These same neighborhoods have the highest- need schools. High-poverty neighborhoods and high-need schools can negatively impact child health and depress student outcomes, regardless of individual promise. The isolation of poor minority children into neighborhoods with multiple risk factors almost guarantees that the “silent crisis” of child poverty, amplified by the current economic recession, will get worse, not better, unless structural interventions are made. What is clear is that the stakes are too high to not do anything. This report represents a critical first step in forging a common agenda to address Knoxville’s most important resource and its literal future—its children