Kids at risk: 20 percent of all Hoosier children live in poverty

By Tami Silverman

Is Indiana a good place to be a kid? For many of us with memories of a happy Hoosier childhood, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Yet when we look beyond our personal experiences and examine the data about child well-being in our state, the answer is more likely “it depends.”

The Indiana Youth Institute’s annual KIDS COUNT in Indiana Data Book provides objective, reliable information on how Hoosier children and youth are faring in the categories of economics, education, family and community, health and safety.

Through analyzing these factors, and our aim to improve child well-being, we develop a realistic picture of where we stand and the work ahead. What we see is that many of our children are merely surviving instead of thriving.

Indiana ranks in the bottom half of the country when looking at the median income of families with children, although the median income of most Hoosiers has finally surpassed pre-recession levels.

The state’s unemployment rate is down and our cost of living was the second-lowest in the nation in 2016. Yet, one in five Hoosier children live in poverty, with significant racial and geographic differences. We know poverty puts children at a greater risk of having health problems, delayed social-emotional development and lower educational achievement.

The importance of early childhood education is receiving robust attention, and more Hoosier 3- and 4-year-olds are now enrolled in pre-k. Yet Indiana remains below national levels of children accessing a quality preschool experience.

An increasing focus on college and career planning is contributing to a greater share of Hoosier 12th-graders (80.3 percent) planning to pursue a variety of educational experiences after high school. At the same time, Indiana’s high school graduation rates seem to have plateaued between 88 and 90 percent during the past five years.

Our youth face a variety of health challenges. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Hoosiers ages 15-24, with nearly one in five high school students (19.8 percent) indicating they have seriously considered suicide in the past year –- the third highest rate nationally.

A rising number of Hoosier high school students are at-risk in their romantic relationships, with a greater percentage of teen girls reported to be victims of physical and sexual dating violence in Indiana than in the nation.

Home life plays a critical part in a child’s development, yet a significant share of our children struggle to receive stable support. More than 1 in 8 Hoosier children (13.4 percent) have lived with someone who had a drug or alcohol problem, and more than half of kids removed from a home by Indiana’s Department of Child Services in 2016 were removed due to parental drug and/or alcohol abuse.

The agency also substantiated 1,000 more cases in 2015 than they did during the previous year, with nearly half of all abuse/neglect cases involving children younger than five.

Fortunately, there’s also good news. Indiana teens report that their parents are largely engaged in their lives. Rates bullying at school have dropped below the national average. And 93.2 percent of our children have some type of health insurance.

The annual data book uses up-to-date indicators to shape discussions about how to secure a brighter future for all of Indiana’s children. The success of our state is directly connected to the well-being of our children.

All of our children, regardless of their circumstances, deserve a safe, productive environment where they can learn, grow and thrive. Indiana can and should be a great place to grow up –- and we need to keep working to make this a reality for all Hoosier kids.

Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.