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.)

By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute 

“When I was a child…” We all have likely said this, wrapping ourselves in nostalgia about what we perceived as a carefree, easier time. In many ways, to have been a child decades ago was less complicated. While today’s students have access to technology, information, and opportunities like never before, they also have unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and depression. High-stakes testing, hyper-competitive sports and activities, and ever-present social media all add to the developmental stressors of growing up and finding where you fit in. We also better understand the compounding nature of childhood traumas, such as living in an environment exposed to substance use disorder, child abuse or maltreatment, neighborhood violence and poverty.  

Increasingly, educators are asked to identify and address behavioral health needs of large numbers of students. The Indiana Department of Education’s (IDOE) new Indiana Social-Emotional Competencies (Competencies) address the social and emotional needs of students in grades Pre-K through 12. IDOE’s Competencies start with five core standards: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, and add to that sensory integration and the mindset. This program is designed to advance student social and emotional development and has been proven effective in promoting academic achievement, reducing conduct problems, improving prosocial behavior, and reducing emotional distress. This is a positive development, as data related to the social and emotional well-being of many of Indiana’s students indicates concerning unmet needs. 

Distressingly, in Indiana, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24 and the 4th leading cause of death for youth ages 5-14. Research shows 1 in 5 Indiana high school students – which translates to approximately 200,000 of our children – seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and data from the past several years shows that percentage continues to rise. Indiana ranks 2nd out of 34 states measured in the percentage of students who made a suicide plan, and 3rd out of 37 states measured in the percentage of students who seriously considered attempting suicide. Experts and teens list several reasons for these trends, including insufficient access to mental health screening, poor access to mental health services, and resistance to seeking care.  

School suspensions and expulsions are commonly used to discipline students for disruptive behavior. However, many disciplinary techniques negatively impact student achievement, increase students’ risk of dropping out and increases the likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system. Furthermore, in Indiana, black students are disproportionately subject to this type of intervention. Black students are 2.3 times more likely to receive in-school suspension, 4 times more likely to receive out-of-school suspension, and 2.2 times more likely to be expelled than their white peers. Students engaged in social and emotional learning programs routinely report increases in their optimism, improved social behavior, better self-control and decreased aggression. There also is evidence that equity focused interventions, such as social and emotional learning programs, along with alternatives to suspension, help reduce the discipline gap, mitigate the above negative impacts, keep students in school and improve overall school climate.  

It is encouraging to see that school climate, and school safety, has been a focus of the current legislative session, including strong support for funding programs that increase access to mental health services. Students who feel unsafe at school are more likely to miss days of class, and students who witness school violence are more likely to experience physical and mental health problems. In 2018, 25.9% of Hoosier high school students did not feel safe at school. Black high school students (33.4%) feel less safe at school, than their Hispanic (29.2%) and white peers (24.5%). Students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are 2.6 times more likely to miss school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school in the past month, than their heterosexual peers.  

IDOE’s investment in addressing the social and emotional, as well as academic, needs of our students will likely pay dividends for years to come. Studies show that on average, every dollar invested in such programs yields $11 in savings from juvenile justice crime, higher lifetime earnings and increased mental and physical health. It is also clear that social and emotional learning programs are even more effective when schools partner with afterschool and community programs and families. Indiana Youth Institute is honored to partner with IDOE to support the rollout of their Social and Emotional Competencies. The intersection of social and emotional well-being, school safety, and student success is clear, and we all benefit when all Indiana students are prepared to succeed.  

(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 

It’s basketball season in Indiana. The Pacers are playing their hearts out, March Madness is around the corner, and high school hoops are heating up. Basketball, like so many sports and activities, offers a way for young people to connect, compete, and have fun. Coaches also often play a defining role in youth growth and development. Basketball and MENTOR champion Bill Russell said it well when he once described our collective responsibility toward kids: “There is no such thing as other people’s children.” 

It is also KIDS COUNT Data Book season. As in previous years, in this 25th Anniversary Edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book, the Indiana Youth Institute provides objective, reliable information on the status of Indiana’s children and youth. Looking at the whole child, and our whole state, we examine indicators in the categories of family and community, economic well-being, education, and health. 

A child’s development is critically impacted by their home life, yet many kids face harmful family and community challenges. The data shows one out of every 11 Hoosier children (9.2%) have lived with someone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs, slightly higher than the national average of 8.5%. In 2017, parental drug and/or alcohol abuse was the primary cause behind the majority of Indiana Department of Child Services cases in which children were removed from their homes, and this rate continued to rise over previous years. The rate of child abuse and neglect again increased in our state, placing Indiana as having the third highest child maltreatment rate in the country. On a positive note, our understanding of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) continues to grow, equipping youth-serving professionals with additional tools to help all children.  

Children who experience poverty, especially during early life or for extended periods of time, are at risk for adverse health and developmental outcomes. Our data shows that economically, the basic needs of most Indiana children are being met, and the number of children living in poverty has decreased over prior years. Housing costs in Indiana are relatively low, placing us 10th nationally. At the same time, there are significant racial and geographic differences in the share of Hoosier families with children living in poverty.  

High-quality early childhood education, math and reading proficiency, and school engagement contribute to college and career readiness. Expansion of high-quality early childhood education remains a state priority, yet the number of Hoosier three-and four-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K fell slightly, and Indiana lags when compared to the national average of enrollees. Meanwhile, on average, Indiana 4th and 8th grade students scored better in math and reading than their peers nationally.  

Postsecondary success improves individual outcomes, builds stronger communities, and strengthens the economy. Our data shows the commitment made by schools, community agencies, and the state to make college and career planning a priority has contributed to a slight increase in the number of Hoosier 12th graders (80.7%) planning to pursue education after high school, whether through a college/university, community college, apprenticeship program, or career-technical college. Our data also indicates students and families are making plans and preparations for college and career earlier than in previous years.  

Childhood physical and mental health affects other critical aspects of a child’s life, including school attendance and performance, and can have lasting effects on a child’s future health and well-being. Our data unfortunately confirms Indiana children and youth face a variety of health challenges, with too many kids dealing with substance abuse, lack of health care, inadequate insurance, and/or poor health habits.  

Infant mortality remains a critical concern. Indiana infants are more likely to die in their first year than those in 42 other states, and black infants are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white infants. Children with health insurance tend to be healthier than their uninsured peers. Indiana ranks 40th nationally in covering kids, with 93.7% of Indiana youth having some type of health insurance (the national rate is 95.0%). 

Tragically Hoosier youth are more likely to consider suicide and engage in suicidal behavior than those in other states. Indiana ranks 2nd out of 34 states in the percentage of students who made a suicide plan and ranks 3rd out of 36 states in the percentage of students who seriously considered attempting suicide. Nicotine use among Indiana students also remains concerning, and this year we saw an increase in the average percentage use of electronic vapor products in all middle and high school grades.  

To improve the well-being of our children and youth, we must first understand their current reality. All of Indiana’s 1,573,409 children deserve a safe, productive, healthy environment where they can learn, grow, and thrive. IYI’s 2019 KIDS COUNT Data Book is a starting point for community conversations and activation. Let’s all act to improve the well-being of our children.   

 

 

Children thrive when they are surrounded by stable, consistent and meaningful relationships with caring adults.

Research shows that a quality mentoring relationship can have a resoundingly positive impact on young people’s lives. Youth with quality mentoring experience better educational, vocational and psychosocial outcomes than their unmentored peers. For all its benefits, unfortunately, one in three young people will grow up without ever having a positive mentor.

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By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute

What’s not to love about the Holidays – school vacation, extra cookies and treats, and of course, presents? But, like adults, children can easily become stressed or over-stimulated around the holidays. There are a few easy ways to make the season enjoyable, and meaningful, for our kids.

  1. Prepare kids in advance – talk to your children about what gatherings or events you will be attending, who they will see there and how long they will last. Letting kids know what to expect – and what you expect of them – will help prevent meltdowns.
  2. Teach the joy of giving gifts – children often focus on the gifts they hope to receive. As adults, it is our job to help them learn the importance of thinking of others. Engage children in selecting or making gifts for others. Ask children of all ages what they would like to give to those special people on your list – you may be amazed at how observant and insightful young children and teens can be.
  3. Give to others beyond your friends and family – whether it’s volunteering, participating in a toy drive, or giving children a few dollars to donate to a charity of their choice, this is the perfect time to encourage young people to learn about the needs of their community, state and globe.
  4. Keep as many routines as possible – children thrive on stable bedtimes, healthy food, and plenty of exercise. Try not to schedule more than one major holiday event per day and allow downtime between events. If family commitments don’t avoid daily breaks, build them in before and/or after each gathering.

Finally, give yourself a break. Have fun with the important traditions and say “no” to the activities with lesser significance to your family. Set aside time to play games, watch movies, or simply laugh with the children in your life. It is often the unexpected giggles or unplanned moments that make lasting memories.

teenager vaping

Indiana’s children face many significant health issues, with our opioid crisis and an alarming increase in nicotine use being two of the most urgent. Our state needs all its children to be healthy and have the opportunity to become the strong workforce and leaders of tomorrow.

Children are often the unseen victims of the opioid crisis, with kids of all ages both directly and indirectly affected. Family and community opioid abuse often affects younger children, while older youth may combat opioid addiction themselves. Hoosier children whose parents struggle with substance use disorder are more likely to experience abuse or neglect than other children.

Research shows a clear connection between parents’ substance abuse and child maltreatment, and the number of Indiana kids negatively affected by substance use disorder is growing. Parental substance abuse is the primary factor in more than half (52.2%) of Indiana cases where a child was removed from their home. The addictions crisis also has contributed to a crisis in foster care for the state, with the number of children in foster care having risen 50.2 percent from 2012 to 2015.

Although we may not hear as much about Indiana’s alarmingly high rates of tobacco use, the toll it is taking on our kids is no less dire. The use of any type of tobacco product is unsafe for young people. Experts agree that whether a teen smokes or vapes, the nicotine is both addictive and damaging to their developing brains.

Youth are sensitive to nicotine addiction and feel dependence earlier than adults. Each year, over 3,500 Hoosier children under 18 become new daily smokers. Nearly 9 out of 10 smokers start before age 18, and three out of four teen smokers become adult smokers. The brain continues developing until age 25 and adolescent use of products containing nicotine can harm the part of the brain responsible for mood, learning, and impulse control.

Today, the most commonly used tobacco product among teens are e-cigarettes. When adolescents use vaping products, they are both more likely to use cigarettes, and more likely to increase their use of cigarettes and vaping products over time. Teens who would otherwise be deterred from tobacco cigarettes may be attracted to e-cigarettes because of their unique qualities such as flavorings, design, and perceived social acceptance. The top reasons why teens use e-cigarettes are the use of the product by a friend of family member, availability of flavors, and the belief that vaping is less harmful than other forms of tobacco.

Smoking and substance use are just two of the health issues impacting young Hoosiers – overall, we rank 34th in kids health. We can, and must, do better. We will not change these trends without investing in our kids and our communities. Distressingly, we are 49th out of the 50 states in per-capita spending on public health issues like smoking, drug addiction and obesity.

The Indiana Youth Institute is part of a broad coalition of health, business and youth leaders that are coming together around a plan that calls for improving health outcomes by raising the state cigarette tax as part of next year’s biennial budget. A $2 increase in the state cigarette tax—which is currently under $1 and even lower than Kentucky—would significantly lower the appeal of cigarettes to young, price-sensitive people. It also would generate $360 million in the first year alone that could go toward funding opioid treatment and prevention, educating and protecting youth from e-cigarettes and smoking, addressing our state’s infant mortality concerns and strengthening the Healthy Indiana Plan.

Kids and families benefit from these initiatives. We have the potential to move from bottom ten states in public health spending to the top 10. By raising cigarette user fees in next year’s budget, we can make meaningful and transformative investments to improve our kids’ health.

Our kids are our future. They have limitless potential. Let’s ensure they have the good health needed to become Indiana’s next generation of citizens, innovators, and leaders.

(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute)

Three-year grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. will support program integration to activate communities, expand The Promise and build hope for widespread postsecondary achievement.

Indianapolis, IN — The Indiana Youth Institute is excited to share the news that Promise Indiana and its talented staff will be joining our organization.

Since 2003, we have worked throughout Indiana to build college and career pathways. The addition of Promise Indiana adds a network of communities that are focused on building a culture that encourages students to pursue higher education. To date, more than 13,000 elementary students around the state have started a CollegeChoice 529 direct savings account through The Promise, with more than $10 million in total savings for postsecondary education.

“Our schools and communities have told us loud and clear that college and career readiness needs to begin earlier –  ideally in elementary school. Promise Indiana is an innovative and successful program that builds future identity from a young age. We are delighted to add this thriving program to our existing services,” said Tami Silverman, President and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute.

As the number of local Promise initiatives has grown, so too has interest from other communities around the state. Through Lilly Endowment’s support, IYI will lead the activation of 18 new Promise Indiana communities during the next three years. “Communities are searching for strategies to help students succeed in the classroom and in life. The Promise model is community-centric and designed to help students shape identity and build hope for their future,” said Clint Kugler, Co-Founder of Promise Indiana.

The transition will begin immediately. A formal launch is planned for IYI’s Kids Count Conference on November 27 and 28, 2018. We expect the integration to be completed by early 2019.

With support from the Indiana Education Savings Authority and Lilly Endowment, Promise Indiana began its operations in 2013, as part of the Wabash County YMCA, which has served as the home and backbone organization for the Wabash County Promise. Twenty-four additional communities have launched local initiatives in the five years since the Wabash County effort began.

Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) has been focused on college and career for 15 years, with a track record of launching successful initiatives, including Trip To College Alerts and the annual College and Career Conference.  Founded in 1988, IYI is a statewide organization that champions kids and strengthens communities through services and tools that focus on professional education, organizational capacity building, data and impact solutions, and statewide engagement and advocacy. IYI places an emphasis on increasing P–16 student success including graduation rates and postsecondary planning, achievement, and attainment.

The homeless enrollment in Indiana public schools has increased by 34.2% since the 2010-11 school year.

Who Is Considered Homeless? Under the McKinney-Vento Act, schools are required to keep track of the number of children whom they know lack a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence. Students experiencing housing instability may be living in motels, trailer parks, campgrounds, transitional shelters, or sharing housing with others because of economic hardship.

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For many of us, it is easy to see how our childhood experiences influence our adult choices, behaviors, and preferences. Perhaps you like basketball because all the kids on your street played together after school. Or you learned to cook by helping a beloved grandparent make special family meals. Years spent in a scouting program can create a lasting love of exploration. Examples of positive experiences are endless and unique to each of us.

In the same way, stressful or traumatic childhood events also have lasting impact. The importance of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or “ACEs”, was first discovered 20 years ago as a result of a large-scale research study led by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The resulting ACEs screening tool established a way to gauge the cumulative effect of different types of childhood abuse, neglect or stressful events.

While adverse childhood experiences are very common, as the number of ACEs experienced by a child increase, so does that child’s risk for chronic disease as an adult. Unfortunately, as documented in the Indiana Youth Institute’s September data brief, Hoosier youth have a higher prevalence than their peers nationally in eight of out nine ACEs as measured by the National Survey of Children’s Health.

The good news is that the earlier we can identify a child’s ACEs score, the sooner we can connect them to services to prevent, reverse, or heal the effects. Both physicians and educators are building systems to screen and respond to ACEs.

In many cases, positive childhood experiences can mitigate the stressful or traumatic events. All children need adults that support, trust and love them. Caring adults, whether parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches or mentors, are key to helping children build long-term resilience.

Find more information about ACEs from the following resources:
Indiana Youth Institute ACEs Data Brief
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
American Academy of Pediatrics

sad boy

The cumulative effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has a lifelong impact on children. As the number of ACEs increases, there is a greater likelihood of negative wellbeing outcomes such as obesity, depression, and other chronic conditions throughout life.

What are ACEs? Adverse childhood experiences are stressful or traumatic events occurring in childhood and are used to assess the long-term impact of abuse and household dysfunction on later-life health.

  • Nearly half (47.3%) of Hoosier children have experienced one or more ACEs.
  • Indiana has a higher prevalence of children experiencing at least one ACE (47.3%) than half of our neighboring states: Illinois (39.7%), Michigan (46.2%), Ohio (49.5%), and Kentucky (53.1%).
  • Hoosier youth have a higher prevalence than their peers nationally in eight of out nine ACEs as measured by the National Survey of Children’s Health.

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