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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.