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Indiana’s overall child well-being rates decline in new national report

Indiana’s overall child well-being rates decline in new national report

Indiana’s overall child well-being rates decline in new national report

This article was originally published in the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

A new state-by-state report shows Indiana’s child well-being rankings have fallen, in part due to Indiana children’s dismal math and reading scores, as well as rising rates of juvenile deaths.

Although Indiana continues to rank in the bottom half of states for its rates of teen births and children living in high poverty or single-parent households, those numbers are showing improvement.

The 2024 KIDS COUNT data book ranked Indiana 27th among states, down three spots from last year. However, that is still a slight improvement compared to 2022 and 2021, when the state ranked 28th and 29th, respectively.


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In specific categories covered in the latest report, Indiana ranked 15th in economic well-being, 17th in education, 31st in family and community, and 32nd in health.

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

“We must celebrate the progress we have made, especially in areas of economic well-being like parental employment rates and housing affordability; and we must acknowledge the disparities that persist for our children,” Silverman continued. “All Indiana children should have access to a quality education, regardless of their background or circumstances. By addressing these disparities head-on, we are not only investing in the future of our children, but also in the economic prosperity of our state.”

The report is produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in collaboration with countywide organizations, including the Indiana Youth Institute. It rates states in 16 broad areas, grouped into the categories of health, education, economic well-being, and family and community support.

Gaps in reading and mathematics

The latest edition’s education section, focusing on student achievement, reiterates the low numbers known to Hoosier education officials.

In 2022, the latest year for which figures are available, only 32% of fourth graders nationwide were at or above proficient in reading. This is down from 34% who were proficient in 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results were even worse in eighth-grade math. Nationally, only 26% of eighth-graders were proficient or above in math two years ago, compared with 33% in 2019.

In Indiana, one-third of fourth-graders scored at or above proficiency in reading, a decrease of four percentage points from the 2019 rate of 37%, the report showed.

Additionally, only 30% of Indiana eighth-graders scored at or above proficiency in math, marking an 11% decrease from 2019 and ranking the state 11th nationally.

In 2022, among Indiana fourth graders, Black students scored 23 points lower on average than white students in reading. Students who were eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) scored 18 points lower on average than those who were not eligible for the NSLP, according to the KIDS COUNT report.

Meanwhile, black eighth-graders in Indiana scored 31 points lower on average in math than white students. Hispanic students in the same grade scored 19 points lower on average in math than their white peers.

The Casey Foundation report, however, argues that the pandemic is not the only cause of lower test scores. Rather, the foundation says educators, researchers, policymakers and employers who monitor students’ academic readiness have been sounding the alarm “for a long time.”

U.S. reading and math scores have barely budged in decades. In Indiana, state education officials have repeatedly noted that Hoosiers’ literacy test scores have been on the decline since 2015.

During the 2024 legislative session, state lawmakers took decisive action as part of an ongoing effort to improve literacy and student performance from kindergarten through high school.

Among the new laws passed, the most important was the one requiring third-graders with reading deficiencies to repeat the school year.

Statistics on youth health and family life

The health-focused parts of the report show that after peaking in 2021, the national infant and adolescent mortality rate stabilized at 30 deaths per 100,000 children and youth aged 1 to 19 years.

But in Indiana, the death rate has continued to rise. While there were 29 deaths per 100,000 Indiana children and youth in 2019, the rate rose to 36 deaths in 2022, according to the report.

The Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) has already drawn attention, for example, to higher rates of mental health crises, such as depression and suicidal ideation, among the state’s youth. According to IYI data, one in three students in grades 7-12 reported experiencing persistent sadness and hopelessness. One in seven students made a plan to commit suicide.

The most recent available data also show that nationally and in Indiana, the child poverty rate has improved and parental economic security has increased to pre-pandemic levels.

According to the report, between 2018 and 2022, approximately 113,000 Indiana children (7%) were living in areas with high poverty rates. This is a decrease from 10% between 2013 and 2017.

Between 2019 and 2022, teen births per 1,000 decreased from 21 to 17, and the percentage of children in single-parent families also fell from 35% to 32%.

Still, some gains

Advocates also noted “some bright spots” for Indiana children and their families in this year’s national report:

Between 2019 and 2022, more fathers (75%) had secure, full-time employment in Indiana, which exceeded both the national average and that of four neighboring states: Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.

In 2022, fewer children (22%) lived in households facing a high housing cost burden and spending 30% of their income on housing expenses alone, compared to the national average (30%).
In 2022, more Indiana teens (95%) ages 16-19 were enrolled in school or employed, an improvement from 93% in 2019.
There were also significantly fewer uninsured children under age 19 (5%). Indiana recorded the fifth-largest decline in uninsured children nationwide between 2019 and 2022—a 29% improvement.

The report offers several recommendations for policymakers, school leaders, and educators, including recording absenteeism data by grade level, establishing a culture of seeking evidence-based solutions, and incorporating intensive in-person tutoring to align with school curriculum.

“Children of all ages and grades should have what they need to learn every day, like enough food and sleep and a safe way to get to school, as well as the additional resources they may need to reach their full potential and thrive, like tutoring and mental health services,” said Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Our policies and priorities have not focused on these factors when preparing young people for the economy, which has hurt an entire generation.”

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly with questions: [email protected]. Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter. Twitter.