By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and 2019 is the year Indiana must take significant additional steps to protect our youngest and most vulnerable residents. Indiana has the third highest rate in the country of substantiated child abuse and neglect cases per 1,000 children. That’s far too many Hoosier kids.

Last summer, the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (CWG) conducted a six-month assessment of DCS, publishing their findings along with 20 specific recommendations. The recommendations range from improving treatment and support for families struggling with substance use disorder, to enhanced coordination among state agencies, to transforming the culture at DCS to encourage better staff decision making and responsiveness. Since the report was released, local and state leaders have pressed for action and additional ways to keep our kids safe. A number of responsive bills have since been proposed in the Indiana General Assembly, and the Governor’s budget includes increased funds to address the Department of Child Service’s (DCS) high caseloads, low salaries and turnover rates. We need to build upon these proposals.

A child may be declared by an Indiana court to be a Child in Need of Services (CHINS) if they are seriously impaired or endangered by abuse or neglect, and the child’s parents are unable or unwilling to correct the problem on their own. In 2017, 29,630 Hoosier children were designated as Children in Need of Services (CHINS), more than twice the number of kids so designated just three years earlier. Scott county has the highest rate of CHINS, followed by Perry and Spencer counties, while Hamilton, Hendricks and Washington counties have the state’s lowest rates. These children often face court hearings, new foster homes, and school transitions. In such cases, a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) or guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteer plays a critical role, ensuring that our most vulnerable children have with them a supportive adult to speak up for their best interests. Indiana has certified CASA/GAL programs in over 80 of our 92 counties. Yet nearly 6,000 children are waiting for a CASA/GAL volunteer.

Interestingly, new research shows that one of our state’s on-going efforts to increase child well-being, increasing access to high quality pre-K, can also help reduce child abuse and neglect. The Child Trends study examined records from children in Early Head Start programs in 14 states. While they were not expecting to find this result, the researchers discovered that participating three-year-olds experienced less family conflict and parenting stress, more supportive parenting and home environments, and better child cognitive and self-regulation skills. These positive factors made the preschoolers 10- 22% less likely to become involved with the child welfare system before age 16. It is understandable, and encouraging, that by engaging parents and helping families develop supportive habits, high quality pre-K programs can also reduce child abuse and neglect rates.

In addition to encouraging the passage of promising new legislation, and supporting increased funding and impactful community programs, we must remember that protecting our children is a responsibility we all shoulder. Every Indiana adult is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse and neglect. The Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, 1-800-800-5556, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Reports can be made anonymously.

In the words of the late President Kennedy, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” Throughout April, communities across the state will be holding prevention and awareness events. To find out what’s going on in your community go to the Prevent Child Abuse Indiana’s website at https://pcain.org/. This month, and every month, we must do more to provide the basic need of safety to all Hoosier children.

(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.)

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.) 

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.   

 

 

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.

girl and father figure laughing near Christmas tree

Click here to watch Tami Silverman’s interview on the impact of overindulging children

The ideals of the holidays – sharing special faith traditions and spending time with family and friends – can easily be overshadowed by the barrage of advertisements, sales and the pressure to deliver the perfect gifts for our kids.

The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend an average of $935 this year for the holidays. How often do we hear, or have, conversations about the need to cut back on presents? It’s never too late to refocus our holiday efforts on giving to others. In fact, many experts say that’s exactly what we need to do in order to raise happy, empathetic and resilient kids.

Try asking the children in your life to name their favorite gifts from last year. Chances are they may only remember a couple. Overindulgence, even when well-intentioned, can have serious consequences for children.

According to research highlighted in Psychology Today, giving children too many gifts can lead to increases in destructive behavior, lower self-esteem and decreases in overall happiness. Whether called overindulgence, materialism or spoiling, it often starts at a young age and continues through childhood and adolescence. While unwrapping a stack of gifts may seem joyful, child development experts say the effect is short-lived and often leads to increasing requests and demands for more. Conversely, teaching our children the value of delayed gratification and self-control can create lasting benefits.

At the Indiana Youth Institute, there’s a growing numbers of requests to help youth workers, educators and parents with building self-discipline, resilience or “grit” in our kids. According to psychologist Dr. David Walsh, former president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, “There’s research showing that self-discipline is twice as strong a predictor of school success as intelligence.”

The holidays are an ideal time to help our children learn self-control by helping them manage their impulses and behavior. Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, in the American Academy of Pediatrics book “Building Resilience in Children and Teens,” suggests that parents must overcome our impulses to over-purchase. We need to teach our children that some items must wait for special occasions, some must be earned, and some are simply out of bounds. Not only it is okay for us to say “no” to some of our children’s requests, it’s also beneficial.

How can we keep the celebratory feelings of the holidays without overindulging our children? Obviously, gifts are not the only way to celebrate. Experts from Psychology Today suggest that we set gift limits, focus on esteem-building gifts, and teach the joy of giving.

Instead of increasing the number of gifts each child receives, focus on both the items and experiences that will create lasting memories. The overarching goal is to build thoughtfulness and gratitude, while also setting clear boundaries for gift-giving.

“Kids need to learn how to be contributors and not just takers,” Walsh states. Involve children in selecting gifts for others such as grandparents or teachers. Both adults and children often report greater happiness in giving gifts than in receiving them.

Look for ways to engage your children beyond the presents. Have them help put up decorations. Involve your child in activities such as singing at the local nursing home, or collecting coats and food for others. Arrange a day for them to help grandma bake the traditional cinnamon rolls or decorate cookies. Some families give their children a modest “donation allowance,” which the kids then distribute to their favorite charities. Have your child write a thank-you note to a special coach, mentor or neighbor. Help them to understand that these activities and contributions need not only be made around the holidays. Whatever the activity, the idea is to help children build connections with both family and community.

The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year, and a bit of indulgence is expected. Yet overindulgence, especially when it comes to gifts, can actually be harmful to children. Especially at this time of year, our kids need us to model both generosity and self-control. By engaging our kids in creative ways to celebrate and connect with others, we can create new family traditions beyond gifts. Raising thoughtful, grateful and resilient children takes practice and constant reinforcement. Even when Santa’s coming to town.

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

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)

Our kids are listening as negative political ads blare from our screens and radio waves. They see the political rants swirling on social media. How we approach politics with our children is important not only in this heated election cycle, but also in shaping their understanding of civic engagement for years to come.

Children consume a wide range of election-related media, including ads, debates and political commentaries. They are naturally curious about what’s going on around them.

“We want to encourage that curiosity,” said Jonathon Beckmeyer, a professor in the Indiana University School of Public Health. “The role of parents is to help guide those discussions and be a sounding board for what the kids are seeing or experiencing in their daily lives.”

The challenge is to adjust the approach to their developmental stage, Beckmeyer said. With young children, experts suggest focusing on the basics of our political system, the reason for elections and the goal of campaigns. Middle schoolers may begin to connect political issues with their lives, requiring open dialogues from adults. And teens start to develop their own political beliefs.

Indiana law requires the election process be taught in schools. To fulfill that requirement, some schools may use the Indiana Kids’ Election. Volunteer attorneys from the Indiana State Bar Association speak to students about our representative democracy, including voting, poll books and the “I Voted” stickers. Carol Adinamis, president of the Indiana State Bar Association, says the program’s intent is to educate students and their families about the complexities of the system and process.

Our government is complicated but also thrives on differing opinions. This means children will inevitably encounter others holding differing beliefs. Experts agree it’s important to teach kids how to respect and accept these differences.

“Can you still maintain a level of respect and mutuality in those relationships? If you can, then it’s fine that you don’t agree,” says Beckmeyer.

For many, this may be the most difficult aspect of encouraging a child’s sense of civic responsibility. By focusing on the positive attributes of your candidates, rather than the negatives of the alternatives, adults have the opportunity and responsibility to model respectful discourse.

Now is the perfect time for children to get involved in civic society. Vote, and take your children with you. Let them volunteer for issues or candidates they support. Share your political views with them, while encouraging them to develop their own. Demonstrate that everyone has the right to an opinion which is to be respected, even if it differs from your own. By focusing on the importance of voting and civic engagement, rather than on mudslinging, we can support the healthy growth of our kids and our democracy.

(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)

Complex and diverse challenges face our students, teachers and schools. While addressing and assessing student academic achievement is a top priority, preparation for success also includes attending to their mental and physical health. Schools are pushed to meet testing demands. With limited time and resources, districts may create room for academics by reducing recess. This short-term response may have long-term consequences for our students. Acknowledging that recess is critical to the well-being of our children challenges us to look beyond test scores to focus on the development of the whole child.

The physical benefits of recess are well established. It allows students to develop large motor skills, engage in sports and increase their activity levels, while encouraging them to choose and vary their active pursuits. Experts suggest the type of activity is less important than movement itself, noting that recess contributes to the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity.

Yet the benefits of recess extend beyond a child’s physical well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says recess enhances cognitive, emotional and social development, while promoting communication, negotiation and problem-solving skills. It also provides a way for students to vent frustrations, anxiety and even anger in an appropriate setting. By being unstructured yet supervised, recess provides a unique setting for children to interact, test and develop the skills that aid their overall social growth.

In addition to the physical and social-emotional benefits, recess enhances academic outcomes. The AAP reports that following recess, students demonstrate increased focus and cognitive processing. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation describes it as “an underutilized opportunity to improve the overall learning environment in our schools.”

Playworks Indiana is a best-in-class program that works with schools to maximize the benefits of recess. By using Playworks’ approach to inclusive, value-based recess, schools have decreased reports of bullying and increased student feelings of safety and security. A Stanford University study found using the Playworks model resulted in schools recapturing 24 hours of learning time each year.

Parents, school boards and lawmakers across the country are paying attention to the benefits of recess. Rhode Island now requires that elementary schools give children at least 20 minutes of recess each day. A Texas school district has adopted a policy providing elementary students four 15-minute recess breaks per day. Some Florida parents created a statewide advocacy network to protect and increase recess.

School recess is a sound investment that contributes to the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of Hoosier children. This unstructured play creates lasting health benefits for our kids and helps them build life skills for future success. Recess is a serious educational strategy and we should all support its critical role in developing well-rounded, thoughtful, successful kids.

(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)