Indiana has work to do on behalf of children


If children are the future, Indiana has a health crisis on the horizon. In a report that gives the state improving marks on most measures of child well-being, some important indicators show a downward trend and poor prospects for a healthier Indiana.

  • The death rate for Indiana children and teens, at 31 per 100,000 residents, is higher than the national rate of 25 per 100,000.
  • The incidence of low birth-weight babies has increased since 2010, from 8 percent in 2010 to 8.2 percent in 2016. In Pulaski County, in north central Indiana, the rate is 16.8 percent. The U.S. average is 8.1 percent.
  • Indiana ranks 3rd out of 36 states for which data are available in percentage of high school students who seriously considered attempting suicide. The state is ranked 3rd out of 34 states for percentage of students who made a suicide plan.
  • Indiana’s overall ranking of 31st in the nation for children’s health is worse than all of our neighboring states. Ohio is ranked 23rd.

The figures are from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count profile, which assigns Indiana an overall rank of 28th for measures related to health, economic well-being, education, and family and community. In 2003, the state ranked 20th in the nation for children’s well-being. It fell to 31st in 2009.

Indiana’s slow and steady economic recovery boosted its performance in economic well-being measures in the latest report.

The percentage of children living in poverty dropped from 22 percent to 20 percent, for example, but the progress didn’t match other states. Indiana slid from 19th overall to 24th place for economic well-being.

Twenty-eight percent of children still lived in households with parents who lack secure employment in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available.

But Indiana’s poor performance on children’s health measures is especially alarming. A stronger economy can do much to improve the lives of the state’s children in a relatively brief period, but health issues can have lifetime effects.

“Health is foundational for child well-being,” observes the Indiana Youth Institute in its 2018 data report accompanying the Kids Count release. “Physical and mental health in childhood impacts other critical aspects of a child’s life, including school attendance and performance, and can have lasting effects on a child’s future health and well-being. Substance abuse, lack of health care, inadequate insurance, and poor health habits put children’s health at risk.”

The Indiana Youth Institute uses the data compiled to dive into the underlying causes for the state’s struggle, examining the factors that lead to preterm births, for example. More than 13 percent of expectant Indiana mothers smoke while pregnant, according to the report. While the figure is down from 18.5 percent in 2008, it is significantly higher than the U.S. rate of 8 percent. White mothers smoke at a rate of 14.6 percent, compared with 10.8 percent of black expectant mothers and 3.8 percent of expectant Hispanic mothers.

The health data offer a blueprint for improvement. Some promising efforts are underway in Fort Wayne and Allen County to ensure access to health care, but those involved need support from policymakers and budget officials. If we don’t get a handle on the health challenges facing our youngest residents, the state’s long-term prospects for economic progress are bleak.

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