A family and children advocacy group ranks Indiana as the 28th best state for child well-being, a slight improvement from last year’s ranking of 29th.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, which analyzes 16 indicators across four categories — economic well-being, education, health and family/ community factors — to rate each state’s overall environment for child well-being.
Indiana’s ranking lags behind Illinois, which ranked 23rd, but ahead of other neighboring states, including Ohio (31st), Michigan (32nd) and Kentucky (37th).
“The KIDS COUNT Data Book provides valuable insight into where progress is being made and where we need to focus our efforts,” said Tami Silverman, president and CEO of Indiana Youth Institute, Indiana’s member of the KIDS COUNT network. “Indiana’s improvement in ensuring child well-being is a result of the hard work and dedication of thousands of caring adults and youth-serving organizations across the state. While there are positive signs across many indicators, we need to do more to ensure Hoosier children, especially our children of color, have bright futures.”
In particular, Indiana ranked in the top 20 states for both economic well-being and education, coming in at 19th and 17th, respectively.
Between 2012 and 2020, Indiana reduced the number of children in poverty — from 21% to 18% — and the number of children whose parents lacked secure employment from 31% to 27%. The state also decreased the number of children living in households with a high housing cost burden – from 30% to 22% — as well as the number of teens not in school/ not working — 8% to 6%.
In terms of education, Indiana increased the number of young children in school, fourth grade reading proficiency, eighth grade math proficiency and the number of high school students graduating on time.
Where Indiana falters
But for health and family/ community, Indiana ranked in the bottom 20, coming in at 31st for both categories and dragging down the state’s overall child well-being score.
Indiana did improve its teen birth rate since 2010 — from 37 teen births per 1,000 births to 19 teen births per 1,000 births in 2020 — but still ranked above the national average of 15 teen births per 1,000 births.
It also didn’t move the needle on the percentage of children in single-parent families, which remained at 34%.
The number of children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma slightly decreased from 13% to 11% and the number of children living in high-poverty areas also decreased from 11% to 8%.
In terms of health, Indiana only improved in one area by reducing the number of children without health insurance to 6% from 9%, which is still higher than the national average of 5%. But across the other three categories — low birth-weight babies, children and teen deaths per 100,000 deaths, and number of overweight/ obses children and teens -— Indiana regressed.
The news release urges action to address the youth mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, showing that children and teens struggle with anxiety and depression at “unprecedented levels.”
Nationwide, the KIDS COUNT Data Book notes, anxiety and depression rates in youth have increased following the coronavirus pandemic. In Indiana, anxiety and depression rates increased from 11.7% to 15.9% between 2016 and 2020.
Notably, Indiana has a shortage of mental health providers, with 4.7 million Hoosiers living in a Mental Health Care Health Professional Shortage Area, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
According to the release, 9% of high school students attempted suicide in 2019 nationwide, but children of color and LGBTQ+ youth reported much higher numbers.
For Black students, 12% attempted suicide, jumping to over 25% for American Indian or Native Alaskan students. For young people who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, 23% attempted suicide compared to 6% for their heterosexual peers.
The Trevor Project reported that 22% of transgender boys attempted suicide in the last year as well as 12% of transgender girls, though rates fell dramatically when LGBTQ+ youth reported support from their families or schools.
In response to the reported mental health toll, the foundation called for lawmakers to invest in programs to alleviate poverty, which exacerbates mental health conditions, and prioritize financial stability for families.
That includes expanded mental health care access, which the organization recommended achieving by increasing the presence of social workers, psychologists and other mental health professionals in schools. The mental health care available should be trauma-informed, the release said, and account for the experiences and identities of youth.
The state announced plans last month to spend $54.8 million to expand mental health services and stabilize the workforce, with much of the funding coming from the federal government.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.