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.   

 

 

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.

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(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)

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