Child well-being in Indiana sees a decrease in latest national report

An updated study on child well-being nationwide reveals a decline in Indiana’s ranking, attributed partly to poor math and reading scores among Hoosier kids, alongside higher rates of youth fatalities.

While Indiana still falls in the lower tier for teen births and children in high-poverty or single-parent households, there are signs of improvement in these areas.

The 2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book positions Indiana at 27th place, a slight drop compared to the previous year. Progress has been noted since 2022 and 2021, where Indiana ranked 28th and 29th, respectively.

Breaking down the statistics in the latest report, Indiana achieved the 15th spot in economic well-being, 17th in education, 31st in family and community, and 32nd in health.

“Indiana faces significant opportunities and challenges in enhancing the well-being of our children,” stated Tami Silverman, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute.

“We must acknowledge the gaps that persist for our children and strive for equal access to quality education for every child in Indiana, irrespective of their background,” Silverman added. “By addressing these disparities, we invest not only in our children’s future but also in the economic prosperity of our state.”

The report, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in collaboration with various organizations, evaluates states across 16 diverse areas, encompassing health, education, economic well-being, and family and community support.

Disparities in Reading and Math

The education section of the latest edition underscores concerning trends in student achievement seen by Indiana officials.

Nationally, only 32% of fourth graders met or surpassed the proficiency level in reading in 2022, a decrease from the 34% proficiency rate in 2019.

However, eighth-grade math scores exhibited a more substantial decline. Merely 26% of eighth graders nationwide performed at or above the proficiency level in math in the same period, down from 33% in 2019.

In Indiana, one-third of fourth graders were proficient in reading, marking a four-percentage-point drop from 2019. Additionally, just 30% of eighth graders in the state achieved proficiency in math, boasting an 11% drop from 2019 and securing the 11th position nationally.

Furthermore, the KIDS COUNT report highlighted disparities among student groups. Black fourth graders in Indiana scored 23 points lower in reading than their white counterparts, while Hispanic eighth graders had math scores 19 points lower than white students.

The Casey Foundation report attributes the stagnant test scores in reading and math to longstanding concerns in academic readiness that have been highlighted by educators, researchers, policymakers, and employers.

In Indiana, the decline in literacy exam scores has been a recurrent issue since 2015, as emphasized by state education officials.

During the 2024 legislative session, lawmakers passed significant measures aimed at enhancing literacy skills and K-12 student performance, including the mandate to hold back third graders with insufficient reading skills.

Data on Youth Health and Family Dynamics

Regarding health indicators, the national child and teen mortality rate stabilized at 30 deaths per 100,000 individuals aged 1 to 19 after peaking in 2021.

Conversely, in Indiana, the mortality rate witnessed an uptick from 29 deaths per 100,000 children and youth in 2019 to 36 deaths in 2022.

Indiana Youth Institute’s data has underscored elevated levels of mental health crises, including depression and suicidal ideation, among the state’s youth, with alarming statistics on persistent sadness and suicide planning among students from 7th to 12th grade.

Data from the report also reveal positive trends, such as an improvement in the child poverty rate and increased economic stability among parents, reverting to pre-pandemic levels.

Between 2018 and 2022, approximately 113,000 Hoosier children (7%) resided in high-poverty areas, showcasing a decline from the previous period of 10% (2013-2017).

During the same timeframe, teen births decreased from 21 to 17 per 1,000, and the proportion of children in single-parent households dropped from 35% to 32%.

Progress and Optimistic Indicators

Highlights in this year’s national report point to positive shifts for Indiana families:

Between 2019 and 2022, a higher percentage of parents (75%) secured full-time employment in Indiana than the national and neighboring state averages.

In 2022, fewer children (22%) experienced high housing cost burdens, spending 30% of their income on housing compared to the national average of 30%.

Moreover, the enrollment or employment rates among Hoosier teens (95%) between 16 and 19 improved from 93% in 2019.

The percentage of uninsured children in Indiana reduced significantly, marking a 29% improvement and ranking fifth nationally between 2019 and 2022.

The report outlines recommendations for policymakers, educators, and school leaders, emphasizing the importance of addressing absenteeism data, implementing evidence-based solutions, and providing robust tutoring and mental health services to support students.

“Our policies and priorities should focus on preparing young individuals with essential resources to excel and thrive, benefiting not only the economy but also future generations,” emphasized Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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