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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Child Reaching for Hamburger and Fries

Childhood obesity presents a critical and widespread issue for Indiana children.

One in three Hoosier children ages 10-17 are overweight or obese (33.9%). While childhood obesity presents a concern nationally, this issue is especially relevant in Indiana. Hoosier children are 14.9% more likely to be obese than their peers nationwide. This ranks Indiana as the 9th highest rate of childhood overweight and obesity. In comparison to all neighboring states, Indiana has the highest rate.

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The well-being of mothers and infants determines the health of the next generation.

In the 2018 State of the State address, Governor Eric Holcomb set the goal for Indiana to become the best state in the Midwest for infant mortality rates by 2024, challenging us to work together to improve conditions for infants. The governor labeled our current infant mortality rate as “unacceptable.” In 2016, 623 Hoosier children died before their first birthday. Indiana ranks 41st nationally for infant mortality, with our babies being 24% more likely to die before their first birthday than infants nationally. Indiana has lagged behind the national average for the past two decades.

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The scene from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is one we have seen far too often: terrified students fleeing a school, parents frantically searching for their children, law enforcement swarming a campus. While our immediate concern is for those directly involved in these tragedies, instinctively we also wonder if our own children are safe. Safety is the top school-related concern of parents, above academic performance, student services, facilities or educator quality. Parents must have an accurate understanding of the safety plans in place in our schools. We also must work to ensure that students, and their families, feel that their schools are safe.

School administrators are keenly aware of the need to protect students, with the range of threats including not only active shooters but also weather and natural disasters, noncustodial parent abductions, and everyday issues like bullying and fighting. Although mass school shootings understandably garner intense media coverage, all threats to school safety are cause for concern. Research shows that any instance of crime or violence at school not only affects the students directly involved but can also negatively impact bystanders, the larger school environment and the community.

The good news is that Indiana is leading the nation in school security and safety planning. Indiana is one of only two states with a school safety specialist law, and is the only state in which the program is fully implemented. Every public school corporation in Indiana is required to have a certified school safety specialist, and 88% of districts have two or more specialists.

David Woodward has worked at the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) for over 20 years and is architect of the state’s School Safety Academy. Started in 1999, the Academy’s five-day basic training covers national and state best practices on topics such as cyberbullying, digital threats, active shooters, safe and effective drills, student suicide and school entrance security.  Each district specialist must also complete two additional days of training annually and are tasked with starting the multi-step process of updating and implementing their district’s safety plan. As Woodward notes, “The threats to our schools are always changing, so our response always needs to be updated.”

Although our state is proactive in addressing the safety needs of schools, challenges remain. Fear at school can contribute to an unhealthy school climate and lead to negative student behavior. 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 health problems, social and emotional difficulties, and poor academic performance. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, 78.1 percent of Indiana parents say they “definitely agree” that their child is safe at school. This is compared to the Healthy People 2020 initiative’s goal that 95 percent of parents will consider their children to be safe at school. We all have a role to play in creating and sustaining a climate of safety through our schools.

At the leadership and policy level, more can be done to increase both the actual and perceived levels of safety. In late February, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick called on the General Assembly and our Congressional Delegation to pass additional school safety policies. Her two main requests were increased resources for mental and behavioral wellbeing, and ensuring that our private and charter schools all have the same requirements to keep our schools and students safeLate in the legislative session, Governor Holcomb requested a $5 million increase in the state’s school safety grant fund, but the bill died in the final minutes of this year’s session. The May special session will be a time to finalize additional school safety actions and funding.

At the community level, effective communication is critical. Although schools understandably cannot publish their specific safety plans, they can and should talk with parents and community members about the steps they are taking to ensure students are safe. Experts suggest directly calling your school principal with safety concerns, noting that many people erroneously first call local law enforcement.  Student voice is also important in shaping and maintaining a safe school environment. Ask your school how they are supporting student engagement in their safety planning. Finally, do not underestimate the impact these national traumas have on our students’ sense of safety.

The horrific mass shooting in Florida has once again heightened our concerns for school safety. Indiana has proactively taken steps to ensure our schools have updated safety plans in place and yet even the best plans are not guarantees. All Hoosier parents and families should have a clear understanding of what is going on at the state and local levels, especially inside their individual schools. Students are understandably and admirably stepping up to not only regain their sense of safety but also to call for increased action. But as community leaders, parents and citizens, it is our shared responsibility to provide safe learning environments for all of our educators, administrators and, most importantly, our students.