Indiana ranks 29th nationally for child well-being and 35th in child health, according to the 2021 Kids Count Data Book.
The annual report — which is compiled, analyzed and released by the Indiana Youth Institute — offers a profile of child well-being at statewide and county levels using indicators of family and community, economic well-being, education and health. It also offers insight into how service providers and policymakers can address the issues affecting the health and well-being of Hoosier children.
Although its ranking for overall child well-being remained unchanged, this year’s report showed Indiana made gains in the areas of family and community (31st), economic well-being (15th) and education (15th). Due to changes in data collection, the health ranking cannot be compared to that of previous years.
The rankings are determined by analyzing studies and reports on a number of factors that would affect a child’s well-being under each of the four aforementioned indicators. Each section also includes information about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the well-being of Indiana’s youth.
While progress was made in some areas, one factor that was consistent across nearly all of the well-being indicators: children of color are disproportionately affected by issues like poverty, food insecurity, school suspensions and wealth gaps.
“The past year has also offered painful reminders of the history and ongoing effects of institutional racism in America,” IYI President and CEO Tami Silverman said in a written statement.
“Our Data Book connects the disaggregated data to historical context, policies, and resource gaps influencing the outcomes of historically marginalized Hoosier youth. We believe better understanding the realities facing our children of color empowers us to work together to build equitable solutions.”
Hoosiers of color are at a disadvantage
Notable racial disparities could be found across all health indicators examined in the study.
When looking at the wealth gap — which includes assets, homeownership, income and savings — Hoosiers of color are at a disadvantage. Nationally, white families have a higher median net worth than Black or Hispanic families. They’re also more likely to expect or receive an inheritance after the death of a loved one.
White Hoosiers own 91% of homes in the state, compared to 5.2% and 3.9% for Black and Hispanic Hoosiers, respectively. And while the median income for white families is $61,054, Hispanic families earned over 20% less, coming in at $48,310. The gap is even larger for Black families, who earn 40% less than their white counterparts, with $36,323.
Youth of color are over-represented in state’s justice system
Another area that noted significant racial disparities was youth criminal justice. Youth of color are over-represented in the over 400 youth in the state’s justice system.
While Black Hoosiers represent around 11% of the state’s overall population, 33.5% of youth in the state’s juvenile justice centers are Black. Of the remainder, 7.8% were Hispanic and 49.1% were white.
The study looked at how school discipline is related to the juvenile justice system. Although the proportion of students receiving school suspensions statewide has dropped, students of color were most often affected during the 2019-20 school year. Of the students who received out-of-school suspensions, 14.4% were Black, 4.4% were Hispanic and 7.3% were of two or more races. It was similar for in-school suspensions: 7.4% were Black, 3.8% were Hispanic and 5.3% were of two or more races.
Racial disparities found in ILEARN, dropout rate and more
Racial disparities were noted in several other areas:
- While 91.6% of white students passed IREAD-3, only 74.2% of Black students and 78.1% of Hispanic students did the same.
- While 44% of white 8th graders passed their math ILEARN, only 24.6% of Hispanic students and 14.8% of Black students did the same.
- Despite representing 11.3% of the state’s child population, 24.1% of youth in poverty are Black. Likewise, Hispanic children represent 11.4% of the state’s child population but represent 14.9% of youth in poverty.
- In 2018-19, 27.4% of students identified as homeless were Black, 11.2% were Hispanic and 7.5% were of two or more races.
- In 2019-20, the statewide average high school dropout rate was 7.2%, but it was 10.9% for Black students, 8.5% for Hispanic students and 9.6% for students who were of two or more races.
COVID-19 leads to decrease in neglect reports, increase in financial need
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected Hoosiers’ lives in nearly every way, from education interruptions and unemployment to housing and food insecurity.
The number of families receiving temporary cash assistance has risen significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. In February, 5,340 families (9,753 children) received these benefits compared to 7,950 (14,590 children) in September. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, saw a similar trend: by September, over 300,000 households were receiving assistance.
The number of neglect or abuse calls coming to the Indiana Department of Child Services hotline decreased by 44.3%, which may be due to the child being home and not in school, where teachers are mandatory reporters, the report postulates. It may also be difficult for instructors to pick up on signs of abuse or neglect in a virtual setting.
(Indiana law considers every adult a mandatory reporter of suspected abuse or neglect. If you suspect something is wrong, call the DCS hotline at 1-800-800-5556 or your local law enforcement.)
COVID exacerbates mental health struggles
The report also highlights the severity of mental health struggles among Hoosier youth. According to the report, 12.7% of youth report having severe major depression, which is above the national average. Nearly 4% of youth have been diagnosed with depression and 10.7% have been diagnosed with anxiety.
The pandemic has exacerbated these struggles for Hoosier adults and children. In response to the Oct. 28 to Nov. 9 pulse surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 11% of households with children said they had received counseling or therapy, while 12.1% said they needed counseling or therapy but did not get it.
See how Marion, Johnson and Hamilton counties fared
The Indiana Youth Institute also provides county-level data snapshots for each of Indiana’s 92 counties. Examining 2019 data, here’s a look at how Marion, Hamilton and Johnson counties performed on a few key metrics:
- 235,320 children
- 5,927 were in foster care at some point
- 26.5% of children under 18 lived in poverty
- 80.3% of third graders were proficient in reading
- 29.1% of students grades 3-8 scored proficient on ELA & Math ILEARN
- the rate of abuse and neglect was 20 per 1,000
- 38,279 children
- 315 were in foster care at some point
- 10.1% of children under 18 lived in poverty
- 93.3% of third graders were proficient in reading
- 46.8% of students grades 3-8 scored proficient on ELA & Math ILEARN
- The rate of abuse and neglect was 6 per 1,000
- 88,550 children
- 294 were in foster care at some point
- 5.3% of children under 18 lived in poverty
- 94.5% of third graders were proficient in reading
- 57.6% of students grades 3-8 scored proficient on ELA & Math ILEARN
- The rate of abuse and neglect was 4 per 1,000
You can reach IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at 317-444-6156 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.