When is the right time to talk to children about racism? Are you concerned about not having enough or the right information? Are your kids and teens asking questions about history and race that make you uncomfortable? How do you start anti-racist conversations with children and how do you sustain them over time?

It can be hard to talk with children and students about racism. Conversations about race, the history of discrimination, both interpersonal and systemic, in our country and state, and current protests will likely be different for each family, school, and community. There is no one “best” or “right” way to talk with children about this important issue. At the same time, the research is clear that we can and should start teaching children about kindness, fairness and human rights at a young age.

In August 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy brief outlining the health effects of racism on children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families. Racism negatively affects the environments in which people live, learn, play, and work. For the person who experiences racism, its impact has been linked to differences in such health indicators as infant and maternal mortality, birth weight, and child and adolescent mental health. Prolonged exposure to stress associated with racism leads the bodies of those affected to produce increased stress hormones, which in turn can result in their development of chronic diseases. Systemic racism has impacted access to jobs, education, healthcare, and overall upward mobility. Creating antiracist environments and systems for our children can have lasting health and economic benefits for all people.

When discussing racism with children, it is important to first, increase our personal understanding of this critical issue from a lens of equity and fairness and secondly, to understand and adjust our engagement based on the stages of child development. What follows are some age-appropriate ways and resources, many from UNICEF and the Child Mind Institute, to address racism with children and youth.

Little ones, under age 5:

  1. Be open to all questions. Babies as young as 6 months old begin noticing physical differences including skin color, and by age 5 children can show signs of inclusion or racial bias. Children in this age group commonly ask many questions, and will likely ask about people who look different from them. Encourage their curiosity, recognizing and discussing differences in appearance in positive, prosocial ways.
  2. Celebrate diversity. Introduce diverse cultures and people from different races and ethnicities to children. Early positive interactions help decrease prejudice and encourages more cross-racial group friendships.
  3. Use relatable experts. CNN and “Sesame Street” recently partnered for a special town hall special, “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism,” where Big Bird, Elmo, Abby Cadabby and others, discussed and explained concepts of protesting and racism. Kids’ direct and heartfelt questions were answered in clear and simple terms that all can understand.

 

Elementary students and pre-teens:

  1. Encourage this age group to share their feelings about race and racism. Check in, listen, and ask questions. Children are likely to have concerns or questions that they do not know how to express. They may be ambivalent or uncertain, afraid of riots, of being hurt by the police, or worry that something bad could happen to loved ones.
  2. Discuss the media. Ask what they are seeing on TV and social media. Elementary students and pre-teens are becoming more exposed to information and can easily be confused by what they are seeing and hearing. Ask broad questions such as: “How did you feel about what we saw on the news? What did it make you think about?”
  3. Bring diversity into your home and schools. Explore food, stories, and films from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds, discussing the uniqueness and similarities. Advocate for curricula that are multicultural, multilingual, and reflective of diverse communities.

 

Teenagers:

  1. Be ready for strong emotions. This age group is likely to know more than you may think and can also have strong emotional responses. Try to stay calm without hiding your feelings. Let them know that you are also sad and angry, validating that it is good to have a strong reaction to social injustice.
  2. Talk openly about historical racism and the challenges of addressing remaining inequities. This group is beginning to understand complicated and abstract concepts such as fairness, bias, and justice. Ask what they think and introduce them to different perspectives and worldviews to help expand their understanding toward global thinking and local impact.
  3. Encourage action. Many teens are looking for ways to be active in their community and on social media. Help them to act in ways that reflect a dedication to inclusion, unity and personal development.

Do your best to meet each child where they are, developmentally and emotionally. It is important to hear and validate their questions, fears, and emotions. Do not worry if you do not have all the answers. Our children are looking to us as role models and guides. Honest, open, and fact-based conversations about racism, diversity, and inclusion builds lasting trust. Take every opportunity to challenge racist behaviors, practices and policies, demonstrate kindness, and stand up for every person’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.

In the words of my esteemed colleague, Dr. Karlin Tichenor, “Our minority children deserve a world where they can run, walk, protest, and achieve without fear or limits. We all deserve this world.”

A few supporting and additional resources include:

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)

 

 

 

Many of us, as parents and caregivers, find ourselves now at home, juggling our children’s school requirements, our own work obligations, and the added stress of trying to stay healthy and safe during a pandemic. We want to be supportive and encouraging, but simultaneously we struggle with how best to address the dangerous realities of this virus. Now, perhaps more than ever, our kids are looking to us for guidance and reassurance. And our interactions with our kids, how we talk about and respond to the current conditions, make a tremendous difference in how they address these challenging times.

There are mountains of articles and reports to sift through offering advice. What follows are highlights of three helpful resources – one from the National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses, one from Psychology Today, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. These, like many resources and experts, stress the importance of offering an age-appropriate response.

For young children it is important to keep your discussions of COVID-19 brief and simple. It is helpful to let young children know that adults – including their family members, teachers, and community leaders – are working to keep them safe and healthy. Within this age group, stress and anxiety may show up as loss of appetite, clinging to parents/caregivers, thumb sucking, or regression in developmental milestones.

We should anticipate more questions from later elementary and early middle schoolers. They may ask questions about COVID-19 cases in their area or school, the chances that they will get sick, and what is going to happen when they return to school. Given the uncertainty that exists around many of these questions, we can help these children by giving them the facts that we do know. Talk about how the disease is spread and what everyone can do to reduce their risk. Practice handwashing and putting on face masks. Discuss what national, state, and community leaders are doing, such as issuing stay-at-home orders, to manage the spread of the disease. Irritability, poor concentration, nightmares, and clinginess are all common signs of stress with kids in this age group.

COVID-19 issues and concerns can be discussed in greater detail with older students, such as those in grades 8-12. Again, it is important to steer them to factual information and credible sources. This group is likely to be getting information form a variety of sources, such as friends and social media. We can play an important role in helping them sort out facts from rumor, speculation, or opinion.  Sleep disruptions, loss of appetite, increased conflicts and aggression, and physical complaints are common among teens under stress.

Limiting access to screens, including television, internet, phone, and social media, is advised for all age groups. Yet, this has become increasingly challenging with stay-at-home orders, e-learning, reduced alternate activities, and time demands of parent work schedules. We can all monitor how much time our children spend watching COVID-19 updates, as too much information can increase fears, confusion, and anxiety.

We can help children and youth stay active by encouraging them to play outside, take a walk, or go for a bike ride. Even a small amount of outdoor time can significantly help mental and physical wellbeing. Taking breaks from schoolwork can increase focus and reduce fatigue. Let your child lead their movement breaks – jumping jacks, dance moves, and stretching are all easy options. We have seen countless creative ways children and families are playing together during this pandemic.

Above all, we want all children to feel supported and cared for during these unusual and uncertain times. We want them to feel safe and comfortable sharing their frustrations, fears and concerns. Lost time with friends, sports seasons, musical performances and graduations are understandable reasons for our kids to be angry, disappointed, and sad. We need to hear and validate these emotions. At the same time, we can also use this time to model flexibility, patience, creative engagement strategies, problem solving, resilience, and compassion. All caring adults have the opportunity to help our children through this crisis – and our kids are counting on us to do just that.

Sources and Resources

Three girls smile while standing outside in the snow.

What are your goals for 2020? For adults, the most popular resolutions include exercise more, quit smoking, learn a new skill, and manage money better. What about for kids? Should they also be making New Year’s resolutions? Studies show child goal-setting can build their resilience, confidence and motivation. Yet it is important that we understand how goal setting is different for children. With the right approach and tools, building our children’s ability to set appropriate goals can put them on a path to long-term success.

As caring adults, we can set the conditions for our children to learn the benefits of goal setting. In fact, experts agree that most children learn how to set goals by continually watching their parents and mentors. Teaching children how to set and achieve goals helps them learn the values of reflection and self-improvement. And reflective self-improvement, also called a growth mindset, has been found to be a better predictor of future success than IQ.

To be effective, children must drive the goal-setting process. To ensure that the goals are truly those of the child and not a reflection of adult overreach, caring adults must play a supporting role, allowing the child to identify their unique goals. One approach, the ABCs of Goal Setting, from Psychology Today, highlights that goals should be achievable and believable, while involving personal commitment. EdWeek proposes a simple “noun plus verb” structure, such as “read every night” or “attend homework groups.” With any approach, it’s important to review plans regularly and to anticipate that setbacks may occur and adjustments will be needed.

While goal setting can be started with children as young as 3 or 4, it is important to adjust the approach based on the child’s age. At any age, start the conversation by simply asking children what they would like to do this year. Michelle Borba, parenting expert and author of the book “UnSelfie,” suggests then using this formula: “I will” plus “what,” “when” and “how.” For younger kids, the formula simplifies to “I will” plus “what.” Goals such as learning to tie shoes or memorize simple addition facts are realistic for little ones and can later grow to be more complex.

Psychology Today says a key in goal setting is to listen to the child and focus on the process of improvement rather than the product. We also can help by ensuring that our kids don’t set too many goals or select goals that are too complex or too simplistic. Many experts suggest that by selecting goals that are just out of reach we can teach children to try new things.

At the same time, kids need to see and understand that self-improvement takes time and that setbacks are normal. Show them the struggles you’ve encountered to reach your own goals. There are many great biographies, such as those of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and many Olympic athletes, that highlight the essential connection between goals, failure and success.

Goal setting holds the promise of helping kids in many parts of their lives, and experts recommend looking beyond academics. When youth are overscheduled and stressed, they may need to identify goals and action steps that foster relaxation and fun as part of their lives. Borba recommends we promote this balance by helping children set and achieve character goals. Character goals aim at cultivating “we-thinkers” instead of “me-thinkers,” helping kids become better individuals and community members through building traits such as caring, courtesy, respect, patience, generosity and truthfulness. Another way to reinforce the importance of these character goals is for the entire family to identify and work towards a shared goal, such as listening more or reaching out to elderly relatives.

In 2020, instead of just telling your child they are smart, you can teach them that they are capable of taking on challenges that can result in growth. Listen to their goals, help them define the larger strategy and necessary daily actions, then provide lots of cheering, encouragement in the face of setbacks, and unconditional support. As we aim to grow and nurture our future leaders, goal setting may be the key to building motivated, resilient and hopeful kids. And it’s a goal we can all share.

 Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.

During the holiday season, we may find many settings where both food and conversation are plentiful. Gathering for meals and interactions with family members, especially those with differing opinions, can be wonderful opportunities to teach our kids the value of connectedness.

Family meals, be they weekday dinners or large holiday gatherings, offer tremendous benefits for children. Mealtimes provide a chance for family members to catch up on events of the day, provide support, discuss news, tell stories, solve problems, have fun, and plan.

  • Family mealtime is associated with strengthening families, improving nutrition, and facilitating child development.
  • For young children, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than being read to aloud. One study showed that young kids learned 1,000 rare words at the dinner table, compared to only 143 from parents reading storybooks aloud. Kids with a larger vocabulary read earlier and more easily.
  • For school-age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports, or doing art.
  • Teens who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get As in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week.
  • Regular family dinners are also linked to lowering the risks of a host of teenage behaviors parents fear: suicide, smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders, and sexual activity.

Family rituals, such as a Thanksgiving dinner followed by football games, facilitate an increase in a child’s and a family’s sense of social connectedness, and such connectedness may serve to protect kids and teens from the development of anxiety or depression.

Comforting and emotionally stable adult relationships have a significant impact on a child’s overall mental health outcomes. At the same time, holidays can add stress to already hectic schedules and family routines. While stressful days and moments are normal, high levels of stress that continue for long periods of time can negatively affect a child.

Indiana families often effectively work through stressful situations, talking and connecting with one another. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health,

  • 65.6% of Hoosier parents report handling the day-to-day demands of raising children “very well.”
  • 47.8% of Hoosier families talk together when facing problems.
  • 86.0% of Hoosier families are more likely to work together to solve family problems “all of the time” (46.5%) and “most of the time (40.4%).
  • 65.3% of Hispanic families in Indiana are more likely to stay hopeful even in difficult times “all of time” compared to their peers: Black 61.3%, all other kids 56.8%, and white 47.9%.

One of the best things we can do to help our kids navigate stressful situations, whether in extended family gatherings or daily interactions, is to teach them effective civil discourse skills. The goal should be to help our children have calm, balanced conversations about controversial issues, something many adults struggle to do, let alone model.

The ability to study a problem, understand the opinions and arguments on all sides, and discuss it with others to see what agreements or solutions are available, is a highly valuable skill to learn. Some of the suggested key steps of teaching and modeling civil discourse include:

  • Listen with patience – hearing another person’s position, in their own terms, takes patience and focus. Yet this critical first step is crucial to building empathy. The information gained also can help determine if there is common ground to be found or if continuing the conversation may be a waste of time.
  • Be willing to be wrong – be open to new arguments and ideas. Check facts on both sides. This step can mean acceptance of new facts and/or letting go of your own incorrect facts or assumptions. It means letting go of invalid information, a self-acknowledgement that is difficult for many.
  • Respect opposing views – the ability to show respect for the right to hold differing positions is crucial. You can disagree with an individual’s perspective while still consistently showing respect for the person holding those views.

In a world with an abundance of finger-pointing and heated discussions, your holiday gatherings can be a way to show your kids a different, more productive path. Shared meals and traditions, enhanced with positive civil discourse, may be the best gift we can give our children.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting the growing number of Hispanic children in our state while sharing with youth workers – teachers, after-school providers, coaches, mentors and families – how they can join in the celebration.  

History of Hispanic Heritage month: 

  • Takes place every year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15  
  • Started in 1968 as a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures and extensive histories of Americans who came from — or whose ancestors came from — Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. 
  • Started during President Lyndon Johnson’s term as a 1-week celebration and was extended to a month during President Ronald Reagan’s term in 1988. 

Indiana’s Hispanic youth population and national trends: 

  • Indiana’s child population has increased in racial and ethnic diversity over the past 10 years and is more diverse than the adult population (children = 27.3% race or ethnicity other than white, non-Hispanic vs 18% of adults race or ethnicity other than white, non-Hispanic). 
  • The Hispanic population has seen the largest demographic increase over the past 10 years (+2.5%).  
  • The Indiana Hispanic youth population has increased to 11.3% (2018), up from 8.8% in 2008.  
  • Between 2014 and 2018, the population of Indiana Hispanic youth ages 0-17 increased from 165,610 to 176,634. The Hispanic youth population has increased between 2,000 to 3,000 each year since 2014.  
  • Indiana’s Hispanic youth population (176,634) is third largest among neighboring states and 21st largest nationally. Among Indiana’s neighboring states, Illinois boasts the largest Hispanic youth population (710,873), followed by Michigan (182,786).   

According to research conducted by Pew Research Center, by 2035, one-third of American children and youth will be Latino. U.S.-born people, rather than immigrants, are driving the Latino population shift.

The U.S. Department of Education, Smithsonian Education and the National Education Association have easy to use lessons, student activities, quizzes and media/videos that can be used to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage month. Resources are organized by grade level and cover topics such as:   

  • Hispanic history and leaders – help students learn about famous Hispanic Americans, from early settlers to scientists, athletes, musicians and civic leaders.    
  • Comparing cultural holidays  students in grades K-4 compare Halloween and El Día de los Muertos by looking at traditions, music and visual art.  
  • Journal of Time  Students in grades 5-8 use photographs as inspiration to write journal entries from the point of view of someone living during the Great Depression in California.
  • Common Visions, Common Voices  students in grades 9-12 analyze similarities and differences between cultures by investigating themes and motifs found in literature or visual arts.  

Local and state organizations, such as the Indiana Latino Institute, the Indiana Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs, La Plaza Indianapolis and Girl Scouts, provide programs, events and materials that celebrate this month and Indiana’s Hispanic children and families.     

National Hispanic Heritage month is a great reminder that there is more we can learn about American history while also reminding us that we can do more to engage this growing student population. Some recommended actions for youth-serving professionals include:  

  • Tell students that they can succeed, and reinforce with new English speakers that they can overcome language barriers. 
  • Recognize that seemingly little things, like making positive comments or taking the time to discuss a student’s work, can go a long way toward building connections and confidence. 
  • Help kids start thinking about and preparing for college very early. Do not be dismissive by assuming students do not want to go to college or graduate. Far too many Latino students have heard that they are not ready for college. 
  • Continue and expand the work many school districts are already doing to increase their cultural awareness, including both training and ongoing professional education. 
  • Expand engagement strategies involving Latino parents and extended family members as partners in their child’s development and success.  

Indiana and American classrooms, afterschool programs, teams and clubs are becoming increasingly diverse. National Hispanic Heritage month is a great way to celebrate Indiana’s fastest growing group of children and youth. Hopefully, the events and actions taken this month will increase our ability to learn and build on the rich array of cultural and community norms of students and their families. After all, the better we understand our students, the better we can support and champion their success.  

Tami Silverman is the president & CEO of Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.

Research continues to show significant racial differences in school suspensions and expulsions. In general, white students tend to receive disciplinary office referrals for behavior that can be observed more objectively—e.g., smoking, vandalizing, leaving class without permission, making obscene comments—while in comparison Black students were more likely to receive disciplinary office referrals for behaviors that can be interpreted more subjectively (e.g., disrespecting, threating, making excessive noise).  

Now, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has published an online data portal where students, families, and community leaders can see the number and breakdown of disciplinary actions in Indiana schools. You can access this information by going to https://inview.doe.in.gov/typing in a school, and clicking on the “Environment” tab. The data is available for the 2017-18 school year broken down by school, school corporation, and state numbers.  

 The statistics at the state level are as follows:  

 In-School Suspensions: 

  • Overall, 4.4% of Indiana students were suspended in-school across the state of Indiana.  
  • Among Indiana students, Black/African-American children were more than twice as likely to receive in-school suspension compared to their white peers (8.2% compared to 3.4%). 
  • In-school suspension rates are highest among Black students (8.2%), multiracial students (5.9%), Native American students (4.9%), and Hispanic students (4.7%)  and lowest among Asian (1.7%), white (3.4%), and Hawaiian or Pacific Islander children (3.5%). 
  • Students with disabilities (6.5%) and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds (6.2%) received suspensions at higher rates than all other races/ethnicities except for Black. 
  • Black (8.2%), multiracial (5.9%), and Hispanic (4.7%) were the three highest percentages of students. Asian (1.7%), white (3.4%), and Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (3.5%) were the three lowest percentages. 

 Out-of-School Suspensions: 

  • Overall, 5.7% of Indiana students were suspended out-of-school across the state of Indiana. 
  • Among Indiana students, Black/African-American children were nearly four times as likely to receive out-of-school suspension compared to their white peers (15.4% as compared with 3.8%). 
  • The rate of Black/African-American students (15.4%) suspended out-of-school was nearly twice that of the next largest race/ethnicity (multiracial students, 7.9%). 

 Expulsions: 

  • Overall, 0.3% of all Indiana students received an expulsion. 
  • Black/African-American students, along with Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students, received more expulsions than any other race/ethnicity at 0.4%. 
  • Asian students received the fewest expulsions at 0.1%. 
  • Among all expulsions, 0.4% of students were from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Recent research from the American Psychological Association suggests that many widely-used school disciplinary techniques are counterproductive and actually negatively impact student achievement, increase students’ risk of dropping out, and increase the likelihood that students disciplined in schools would become involved with the criminal justice system. When school disciplinary systems can be updated to include equity-focused interventions, as IDOE is working to do, schools can reduce the discipline gap, lessen the negative impacts of discipline, keep students in school, and improve the overall school climate.   

Our State Legislature, recognizing the issue of disproportionality in school discipline, passed House Enrolled Act 1421 (HEA 1421), which requires IDOE to provide schools with training and information on evidence-based models for improving school behavior and discipline. The law’s overarching goal is to ensure that all students across our state have access to a “safe, respectful, culturally- and trauma-responsive learning environment.” Through these efforts, school districts will have quick access to the latest available data and receive the information and resources needed to review and update their disciplinary practices. 

Now that the school year is in full swing, families should examine both the discipline numbers for their schools and the code of conduct. Child Trends has five questions they recommend asking your school about disciplinary practices, including:  

  1. What does my school do to prevent misbehavior?
  2. What behaviors place my child at risk of removal from class or school?
  3. How and when does my school involve police?
  4. Does my school use corporal punishment or seclusion and restraint?
  5. What is restorative justice and is it used in my school?

We all want schools where every student and staff member are safe and focused on learning. It is promising that our elected officials and IDOE are acting to reduce the disproportionate rates by which Black and Hispanic students, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students are disciplined. With the data now easily available, we can all step up to understand the numbers and help ensure the next steps are more constructive ones. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  

By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute

Back to school means back to sports for many Hoosier students. Playing sports is one of the best ways for students to stay active and help them maintain a healthier weight. Organized youth sports provide a wide range of benefits, many beyond physical fitness, and yet it is important to understand the pros, cons and realities of youth sports.

An ESPN study reports that 30% of girls and 37% of boys play on high school teams. While overall levels of school sports participation have remained fairly constant, more girls have been playing sports in recent years, according to Child Trends.

Students living in suburban areas are the most likely to be involved in sports followed by students living in rural areas. Hispanic students are less likely than black or non-Hispanic white students to participate in school athletics. Students attending the poorest schools, often in urban areas, are the least likely to play school sports. A growing number of these schools are cutting funding for sports, leaving their students without access to the many benefits associated with school sports.

In addition to the health benefits of participating in school sports, there are also clear academic benefits. In most cases, student athletes have higher grade point averages, higher standardized test scores, better attendance, lower dropout rates, and a better chance of going to college than students who do not participate. The skills learned through many sports, such as memorization, repetition, and group-learning, are also helpful in classroom learning. And skills such as leadership, teamwork and effective communication are valuable not only on the field and in the classroom, they are also highly attractive to future employers.

Playing sports can also generate social and emotional benefits for our kids. Sports participation can increase self-esteem and self-confidence. Regular exercise releases many beneficial chemicals in the brain, and student athletes often report reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. The sense of belonging and community associated with being part of a team is also a plus. Sportsmanship, often thought of as the ability to cheer on others and acknowledge the accomplishments of your teammates and opponents, is an invaluable life skill. Student athletes are challenged to learn self-discipline and how to control emotions associated with big wins and losses. And simply having fun is a great reason to play sports.

At the same time, playing school sports is not right for every student. Family members need to understand the potential risks associated with sports participation. Too often parents, coaches, teams, and the students themselves, push too hard for wins, creating unhealthy performance pressure. If a student already has a packed schedule, perhaps with tough classes and part-time work, adding sports can increase rather than alleviate the child’s stress.

A good number of the cons associated with youth sports are related to the behaviors of the parents and family members. Experts suggest avoiding these three big pitfalls. Stop connecting your child’s performance with your ability to coach or parent them. Stop using the sports sidelines as your social circle or a place to recapture your glory days. And stop thinking that the goal of playing school sports is to get a college athletic scholarship. According to the NCAA, only about two-percent of high school athletes are awarded athletic scholarships to compete in college. Sports are intended to be enjoyable, with students citing “I wasn’t having fun” as the top reason both males and females quit playing sports. If it stops being fun, or if the cons begin to outweigh the pros for your child, it is time to reevaluate.

Sports can be an outstanding way for students to remain active, build self-esteem, and have a great time. The attitudes, mindsets, and skills taught through sports translate into positive adult behaviors. Yet far too many well-intentioned adults fail to support their child’s decisions when it comes to sports. It is up to us, as caring adults, to ensure we distinguish between the goals of playing sports and score of the game.

 

By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute 

Indiana Youth Institute’s legislative summary is a review of child-and youth-centered legislation passed and proposed during the State’s most recent legislative session. Because this was a budget year for the Indiana Legislature, we also highlight significant funding decisions affecting Indiana kids. 

Some of the major budget changes include:

1.) School funding increases of 2.5% for each of the next two years were passed, with an additional $539 million in base funding for K-12 education

2.) An additional $74 million for other education programs, like the Teacher Appreciation Grant program and the Secured School Safety Grant program 

3.) $20 million per year of new funding for the Next Level Jobs Employer Training Program, and 

4.) Department of Child Services receiving a $256 million budget increase in 2020 and $246 million in 2021. 

Some new laws aim to address family and community conditions. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 464, Homeless Youth, facilitates homeless youth access to government identification and education services through a designated representative other than a parent or guardian. House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1432, Parental Incarceration, stipulates that Department of Child Services case plans must consider incarcerated parents who have maintained a meaningful role in the child’s life, including but not limited to visitation.  

As noted above, education issues garnered significant attention, as lawmakers funded K-12 public education at the highest levels in over a decade. At the same time, many were disappointed that more was not done to close the State’s comparative gap in teacher compensation. Numerous education bills were passed including HEA 1628 which expands pre-K eligibility, while maintaining prior funding levels, to every Indiana county. Not surprisingly, several education bills, including but not limited to HEA 1004, HEA 1224, HEA 1398, HEA 1629, and SEA 002, addressed school safety issues. New this year, SEA 132, requires every high school to administer the naturalization exam for citizenship to students as part of the U.S. government course requirement. The bill also requires increased study of the Holocaust in a U.S history course.  

The State’s Department of Child Services (DCS) came under heavy scrutiny this session. In addition to the budget bill, SEA 1 and HEA 1006 cover several activities aimed at improving DCS operations including but not limited to setting new standards for timely responses, availability of telephone contacts, caseload limits, response requirements, and maximum age for collaborative care. The new legislation also includes a requirement that DCS report their progress to the general assembly before July 1, 2020.  

In juvenile justice legislation, proposed Senate Bill 279 would have allowed children as young as 12 to be waived into adult court after being charged with attempted murder. The bill met significant opposition, as the proposal runs contrary both to national trends and youth offender rehabilitation research.     

Two notable misses of this legislative session concerned addressing state smoking rates. With nearly 9 out of 10 smokers starting before age 18, and Indiana having one of the highest percentage of residents who smoke in the nation, nicotine use in all forms is a critical youth health issue that must be addressed by our state. This year, the Indiana Legislature failed to pass two bills – one to increase the state smoking age to 21, another to raise the Midwest’s lowest cigarette tax – which research shows would have had a significant impact on youth smoking rates. In addition, parents and schools continue to express frustration with rising vaping rates, and little was done this session to address this emerging public health issue.   

As we look to the summer study committees, we are monitoring the interim study committee on courts and the judiciary, focusing on reforms to laws and policies on the adjudication and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.Education interim study committees will address the impact and funding of school counseling programs while also looking at teacher pay 

We were encouraged by the many bills that were introduced and passed which aimed to increase child well-being in our state. At the same time, much work remains to move our state beyond our 29th place national ranking. Indiana Youth Institute will continue to provide data and research, collaborative conversations, and community convenings in our efforts to ensure that all Indiana children are safe, healthy and well educated.     

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached atiyi@iyi.orgor on Twitter at@Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, andcommunities that are focused on kids and youth.) 

By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute

An increasing number of our children and youth have mental health disorders, encountering challenges with school, within their peer groups, and at home. Unfortunately, most of them are not getting the care they need. Signs of mental health disorder may be difficult to recognize, and unfortunately mental health disorders continue to be stigmatized. These, combined with a lack of access to services for many, create substantive barriers to care. More must be done to combat widely-held myths, connect children with treatment, supports, and services, and work to build strong support networks for all our young people.

A February 2019 study in JAMA Pediatrics estimated that 7.7 million American children, one in every 6 children, have at least one mental health disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ADHD, behavior problems, anxiety and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children, and some of these conditions, such as anxiety and depression, commonly occur together. The JAMA Pediatrics study also showed that roughly half of children do not receive any kind of treatment from a mental health professional.

Last year, 11.6% of Hoosier children received treatment or counseling from a mental health professional, a significant number, and yet still only a portion of Indiana children in need. The National Survey of Children’s Health indicates that 5.2% of Indiana children have ever been diagnosed with depression, and 11.0% have been diagnosed with anxiety. We know that accessibility remains an issue in Indiana. Among our neighboring states, Indiana has the lowest ratio of mental health providers available to serve the population, approximately 1 per every 700 people, and nearly 60% of the state’s population lives in designated mental health professional shortage areas.

Identifying mental health issues may be less obvious than physical ailments, such as broken bones, asthma, or diabetes. Occasional bouts with emotional distress, anxiety, stress, and depression are normal experiences for all children and youth. It can be difficult to distinguish between behaviors and emotions that are related to typical child development, and those that require extra attention and concern.

The national nonprofit Child Mind Institute describes seven myths about childhood mental illness that need to be debunked. These include recognizing that childhood mental illness is not caused by personal weakness or poor parenting. Children and youth cannot overcome mental health problems through willpower, nor will they grow out of their disorder. Instead, understanding that most psychiatric disorders begin before age fourteen provides additional incentive to screen and intervene during childhood. Children who receive early interventions and treatment have a good chance of managing or overcoming their symptoms.

How do you know when a child’s behavior is cause for concern? You should always seek immediate help for a child or teen who harms themselves or others or talks about wanting to do so. While short term stress, anxiety or depression can be developmentally appropriate, the National Institute of Health (NIH) advises that you should also seek help if a child’s behavior or emotional difficulties last more than a few weeks and are causing problems at school, at home or with their friends. Young children may exhibit symptoms such as intense worry or fear, frequent tantrums, complaints about frequent stomach or headaches with no known medical cause, and a lack of interest in playing with other children. Symptoms in teenagers include a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, spending increasing amounts of time alone or avoiding social activities, sleeping too little or too much, and engaging in risky, destructive or self-harming behaviors. The NIH recommends talking with your child’s teacher and consulting your pediatrician, asking either for a recommendation to a mental health professional who has specific experience in dealing with children, when and if possible.

Caring adults and a strong support network, including family members, teachers, coaches and mentors, can serve as protective factors for mental health. Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration Division of Mental Health and Addiction manages our state’s Systems of Care, a model framework used to coordinate services and supports. Schools throughout the state continue to expand their services and expertise, understanding the importance of prevention, intervention, positive development, and communication to families.

While many agree that progress has been made regarding how mental health is viewed, stigma and negative connotations still keep far too many children from getting critical care and support. It is important to understand and work to reduce the barriers of stigma and access to mental health care. It is equally, if not more important, to understand that, for most youth, childhood mental disorders are episodic rather than permanent. Just as with physical illnesses, keys include ensuring children in need can receive appropriate screening and treatment. We would not ignore a child’s physical ailment, and it is time that we consistently take the same approach to their mental health.

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)

By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and 2019 is the year Indiana must take significant additional steps to protect our youngest and most vulnerable residents. Indiana has the third highest rate in the country of substantiated child abuse and neglect cases per 1,000 children. That’s far too many Hoosier kids.

Last summer, the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (CWG) conducted a six-month assessment of DCS, publishing their findings along with 20 specific recommendations. The recommendations range from improving treatment and support for families struggling with substance use disorder, to enhanced coordination among state agencies, to transforming the culture at DCS to encourage better staff decision making and responsiveness. Since the report was released, local and state leaders have pressed for action and additional ways to keep our kids safe. A number of responsive bills have since been proposed in the Indiana General Assembly, and the Governor’s budget includes increased funds to address the Department of Child Service’s (DCS) high caseloads, low salaries and turnover rates. We need to build upon these proposals.

A child may be declared by an Indiana court to be a Child in Need of Services (CHINS) if they are seriously impaired or endangered by abuse or neglect, and the child’s parents are unable or unwilling to correct the problem on their own. In 2017, 29,630 Hoosier children were designated as Children in Need of Services (CHINS), more than twice the number of kids so designated just three years earlier. Scott county has the highest rate of CHINS, followed by Perry and Spencer counties, while Hamilton, Hendricks and Washington counties have the state’s lowest rates. These children often face court hearings, new foster homes, and school transitions. In such cases, a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) or guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteer plays a critical role, ensuring that our most vulnerable children have with them a supportive adult to speak up for their best interests. Indiana has certified CASA/GAL programs in over 80 of our 92 counties. Yet nearly 6,000 children are waiting for a CASA/GAL volunteer.

Interestingly, new research shows that one of our state’s on-going efforts to increase child well-being, increasing access to high quality pre-K, can also help reduce child abuse and neglect. The Child Trends study examined records from children in Early Head Start programs in 14 states. While they were not expecting to find this result, the researchers discovered that participating three-year-olds experienced less family conflict and parenting stress, more supportive parenting and home environments, and better child cognitive and self-regulation skills. These positive factors made the preschoolers 10- 22% less likely to become involved with the child welfare system before age 16. It is understandable, and encouraging, that by engaging parents and helping families develop supportive habits, high quality pre-K programs can also reduce child abuse and neglect rates.

In addition to encouraging the passage of promising new legislation, and supporting increased funding and impactful community programs, we must remember that protecting our children is a responsibility we all shoulder. Every Indiana adult is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse and neglect. The Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, 1-800-800-5556, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Reports can be made anonymously.

In the words of the late President Kennedy, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” Throughout April, communities across the state will be holding prevention and awareness events. To find out what’s going on in your community go to the Prevent Child Abuse Indiana’s website at https://pcain.org/. This month, and every month, we must do more to provide the basic need of safety to all Hoosier children.

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)