Viewed in one way, the welfare of Indiana children is improving, compared with where we were seven years ago.
But we’re not improving fast enough, because we rank 32nd among the 50 states in child welfare, according to a report.
In fact, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2015 Kids Count Data Book shows Indiana is backsliding. We ranked 27th one year ago.
“Indiana’s lower ranking is due less to declines in the Hoosier state and more to minor improvements” made by five states that passed us in the ratings, the report says.
The new report uses statistics from 2013, so the span between its comparisons actually is five years.
First, the bright side. The foundation produced a report card ranking 16 factors affecting child welfare. Since 2008, Indiana has improved in 11 of those categories, including all four involving health. Indiana declined in four measures and stayed even in one.
The categories in which Indiana regressed are some of the most important, however:
22 percent of Hoosier children are living in poverty, compared with 18 percent in 2008, just before the recession hit;
30 percent of Indiana children have parents who lack secure jobs, up from 28 percent in 2008;
35 percent of the state’s children are living in single-parent families, compared with 33 percent in 2008; and
12 percent of Indiana children are living in high-poverty areas, up from 8 percent in 2008.
Those statistics compare Indiana to itself. Another chart from the foundation allows comparisons between Indiana and the rest of the nation today.
In several ways, Indiana’s numbers look the same or slightly better than the country as a whole.
The percentage of children living in poverty is an identical 22 percent in Indiana and nationwide. We look slightly better in the other three measures the report lists as “economic.”
Under the heading of education, Indiana breaks even, ranking better than the nation in two categories and worse in two.
We have 61 percent of children not attending preschool, compared with 54 percent nationwide. Our number hasn’t changed in seven years, and our effort to improve is just beginning, with a new pilot program of state-funded preschool in five counties.
With 20 percent of students not graduating from high school on time, we’re one percentage point worse than the national average.
In the report’s health categories, Indiana has improved to a 7.9 percent rate of low birthweight babies, just below the national average of 8 percent.
We’re tied in the 6 percent of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs. Both Indiana and the nation improved from 8 percent in 2008, so maybe some warnings are getting through.
The report shows 8 percent of Indiana children are not covered by health insurance — better than 10 percent in 2008, but worse than the national average of 7 percent. Indiana’s brand-new Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 carries the potential to improve this category.
“Family and community” is the final major segment of the report. Indiana ranks better than the national average in three of four measures. We look worse only in our rate of 30 teen births per 1,000, with a national average of 26. Both groups have improved drastically since 2008, when Indiana’s rate was 40, and the nation’s was 41.
In areas where Indiana ranks poorly, it seems the best strategy to improve the lives of Indiana children would be to lift their families out of poverty. Instead of attacking kids’ problems directly with more and more programs, the indirect approach of adding higher-wage jobs could do the most good.