We all benefit when the next generation is healthy, safe, well-educated and economically secure. Indiana can be a wonderful place to be a child, but when we look at overall child well-being, it ranks as the 28th state in the nation. A deeper look at the data shows the disproportionate challenges and barriers to success faced by some children.
The Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) recently published the 24th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, part of a national effort to measure childhood well-being at the local, state and national levels using data in areas including health, education, economics, safety and family.
The 2018 Indiana KIDS COUNT Data Book shows improvements over last year in children’s health insurance coverage and teen pregnancy rates. Meanwhile, significant challenges remain in the areas of economics, safety and education. Furthermore, substantial inequities appear in most indicators when the data is disaggregated by race, place and income.
In his 2018 State of the State address, Gov. 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 rightly labeled our current infant mortality rate as “unacceptable.” Indiana is ranked 41st nationally, with our babies being 24 percent more likely to die before their first birthday than infants nationally.
Indiana’s black infants are twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday, with this disparity widening over the prior year. Tony Mason, CEO of the Indianapolis Urban League, says “There are many socio-economic and health factors that put black infants at a higher risk of infant mortality than white infants. On a state level we need to address the issues of food access and quality care.” Jeni O’Malley, director of public affairs for the Indiana Department of Health, highlights numerous programs aimed at infant health, including the new Liv pregnancy mobile app launched in November.
Child maltreatment is also rising with increasing substantiated cases of abuse and neglect, hotline reports and placements in foster care. Over the past five years, Indiana has seen a 58 percent increase in the number of children in foster care with 58 percent due to parent drug and/or alcohol abuse.
Leaders in government, education and community services all stress the importance of collective efforts, purposeful and consistent partnerships, to increase educational outcomes for all kids. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick says “Math and reading growth and proficiency impact student success, which is why we have placed an important focus on these subjects in Indiana. Compared to our sister states, we have made great strides.” Yet students of color and those with low incomes and other risk factors, such as homelessness, have lower educational proficiency rates. As Gov. Holcomb states, “We need to move those kids who are at the back of the line—the most disadvantaged among us—to the front of the line,” beginning with increasing access to quality pre-K programs.
Clearly, the conditions necessary for children to thrive are complex. Children growing up in poverty are significantly more likely to experience stress and deprivation that hinders development and school readiness, health and other outcomes. Indiana’s child poverty rates decreased, with 19.5 percent of Hoosier children living in poverty as of 2016, down from 20.9 percent in 2015.
Jennifer Walthall, secretary of Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration, says her agency believes a two-generation approach provides the best solutions for reducing child poverty because it” addresses the needs of both children and adults in their lives together.” Mason points to providing youth with access to quality education and employment skills as key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Access to such multi-faceted interventions is vital for children of color, as black Hoosier children are three times more likely to live in poverty than their white peers (42.2 percent vs. 13.9 percent).
To ensure all Hoosier children have the opportunity to reach their full potential and become productive and responsible adults, we must understand and work together to improve the conditions that support their success. Our goal with the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book is to spark conversations and action throughout the state. Whether working in a region, county, city, school district or neighborhood, the data can help further such efforts.
(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)