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.) 

Our kids are going back to school and many of us are thinking about backpacks, school supplies and physicals. With bus schedules, class schedules and afterschool activities, our kids can easily get stressed about the beginning of a new school year. For some children, especially teens, this stress and anxiety exists at a dangerous level.

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. Experts and teens list several reasons for the increase, including insufficient mental health screening, poor access to mental health services and resistance to seeking care. Suicide ideation and attempt rates are also found to be higher during the school year than in the summer.

Sadly, Hoosier youth are significantly more likely to consider or attempt suicide than their peers nationally, and Indiana faces significant disparities in youth suicide among vulnerable groups.

  • 1 in 5 Indiana high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. The percentage of students who seriously considered suicide increased from 18.0% in 2005 to 19.8% in 2015.
  • Indiana ranks 2nd out of 34 states in the percentage of students who made a suicide plan and ranks 3rd out of 37 states in the percentage of students who seriously considered attempting suicide.
  • Among our neighboring states, Indiana has the highest percentage of students who seriously considered attempting suicide and the highest percentage of students who made a suicide plan.

For more data on Youth Suicide in Indiana, read IYI’s Data Brief.

Based on these pressing needs, the Indiana General Assembly has passed youth suicide prevention legislation in the past two sessions. Effective June 30, 2018, all teachers and educators for students in grades 5-12 are required to participate in at least two hours of youth suicide awareness and prevention training every three years.

For details about the required training, school responses and effective interventions, go to the Indiana Department of Education’s website.

Hoosier youth are significantly more likely to consider or attempt suicide than their peers nationally. Indiana faces significant disparities in youth suicide among vulnerable groups.

Youth Suicide Deaths:

  • In 2016, 57 Hoosier youth ages 19 and younger died by suicide. This represents an increase from 55 deaths in 2015 and 52 deaths in 2014.
  • 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.
  • 39% of Indiana’s youth suicide deaths are concentrated in 5 counties: Lake, Marion, Allen, Hendricks, and Porter.
  • 59 of Indiana’s 92 counties had zero youth suicide deaths in 2016.

Read the Issue!

A sophomore struggling academically thrives after being guided to a drafting course available at his school. Fifth graders throughout a district learn the connection between school and work through an annual BizTown event. And 21st Century Scholars attend an afterschool seminar where they get hands-on training in the Scholar Success Program. These are just some examples of school counselors helping students thrive. Yet many Indiana students are at a critical disadvantage—there is not enough counseling time to reach every student who needs it.

The Center for Education Statistics ranked Indiana 42nd in the nation for having one counselor for every 541 students in 2013. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio. But Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) data shows that for every 619 students, Indiana has just one licensed counselor.

This is not only a problem on the state level. Ratios vary greatly from county to county. The IDOE data shows Washington County has the lowest student-to-licensed counselor ratio in the state, with one licensed counselor for every 351 public or charter school students. Crawford County has the highest county ratio at 1,606:1. However, several districts around the state, especially charter schools, have no licensed counselors on staff.

ASCA identifies three essential areas where counselors can support student success: academic performance, college and career preparation and social/emotional development. Many schools report success with their academic counseling efforts, which can cover traditional counseling activities such as course selection or study skills, but the highest need lies in the areas of college and career preparation and social/emotional issues.

For example, school counselors assist students with family issues such as divorce and deaths of loved ones, managing emotions, resolving conflict, and learning interpersonal skills. Counselors help students with bullying, drug abuse and mental health issues in an era when nearly one in five Indiana high schools students have considered suicide — tied for the third highest rate in a national survey.

Dr. Michele Moore, superintendent for the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville, says the number of students needing assistance with social/emotional issues continues to increase. Her district’s eight licensed counselors are “putting out brush fires that have to be immediately taken care of.” In recent years, counselors have seen more students dealing with parents who are incarcerated or addicted to heroin/opioids. It is easy to understand how student achievement and success can be sidetracked by these complicated issues. School counselors are uniquely trained and qualified to help students cope with these situations.

School counselors know that student academic and social/emotional well-being are interconnected and critical to long-term achievement. Counselors play a key role in career development, helping students at every education level understand the link between school and work opportunities, while also guiding students toward college and career transitions.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development reports that Indiana will need to fill one million jobs by 2025. Mark Friedmeyer, president of the Indiana School Counselors Association, says counselors need to start the career readiness process at the elementary and middle school levels. “If they wait until they get to high school to learn about that then that may be too late,” he says.

A comprehensive counseling approach provides adequate time for counselors to address all three critical areas with all of the students they serve. Recognizing the increasingly complex challenges schools and students face, a groundbreaking new effort from Lilly Endowment Inc. will address the academic, college and career, and social-emotional needs of students. Through grants to public school districts and charter schools, the Endowment’s new five-year, $30 million initiative will help schools better meet students’ needs for comprehensive school counseling.

This grant is both an exceptional opportunity and a sizeable challenge. That’s why the Indiana Youth Institute was asked to assist school districts with the planning, implementation, evaluation and sustainability of their initiatives. Information on available services can be found at www.iyi.org/counselinginitiati… and by calling 855-244-7175. Once again, we are reminded that student well-being and achievement is a shared responsibility of schools, families and the community.

(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. To provide feedback on the column, she may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)