The well-being of Hoosier children continues to lag behind national peers but hit an all-time high for the state in the 2023 Kids Count Data Book.
Indiana hovers just above the national average at 24th, the highest ranking for the state over the last decade. But in specific categories — for health care as well as family and community — the state scored 29th and 31st, respectively.
The Indiana Youth Institute attributed the ranking from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to a lack of affordable and accessible childcare, which the foundation said hindered economic mobility and perpetuated generational wealth gaps.
“The past couple of years have challenged all of us, but particularly our kids, families, and youth workers. The differences in the data emerging after 2020 reflects that,” institute President and CEO Tami Silverman said in a statement last week. “But opportunities for progress that support Indiana’s youth have still emerged. Now is the time to expand and explore that progress. Our work and the work of the thousands of youth workers, educators, parents, and caregivers is not finished until all children are safe, well-educated, healthy and supported.”
The 24th ranking is an improvement from last year’s 28th, though rankings in some subcategories are unchanged.
The 2023 report
The report’s authors analyzed states in four broad categories: economic well-being, education, health and family and community. Each has four subcategories.
Indiana scored highest for education, where it ranked 13th, even as math and reading proficiency fell.
In terms of economic well-being, the state’s children came in 16th, with improvements in the number of teenagers in school and working. The measurement for the number of children whose parents lack secure employment or who live in households with a high housing cost burden remained the same between the years analyzed, at 27% and 21%, respectively.
The report recorded a higher number of low birth-weight babies, and the rate of child and teenager deaths both worsened — though Indiana’s health score improved from 31st last year to 29th. The state did improve by lowering the number of children without health insurance, however.
The state’s family and community ranking remains unchanged from last year’s 31st, even though the state improved in all four subcategories. Children in single-parent families decreased, from 35% to 33% — as did the number of children living in high-poverty areas, from 12% to 7%.
Fewer children live in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma, down to 10% from 11% previously. Lastly, the number of teen births per 1,000 births decreased from 21 to 17.
But non-white children are still disproportionately likely to live in poverty and lag in other areas of economic well-being. The report notes that children who grow up in poverty are less likely to excel in school and have riskier health-related behaviors.
The importance of child care
More robust child care, research demonstrates, can help children succeed in school and life. Both the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Indiana Youth Institute noted the benefits of high-quality, accessible and affordable child care for families.
Roughly 9% of Hoosier parents with children under the age of 5 report quitting, changing or refusing their jobs because of problems with child care, depressing the state’s workforce. Additionally, women are five to eight times more likely to experience negative employment consequences due to caregiving responsibilities than their male counterparts.
In many parts of the state, infant care outpaces the cost of in-state tuition at a public university, averaging $7,884 — or nearly 8% of the median income for a married couple. For the median single mother in Indiana, that accounts for more than a quarter of her income.
“A good child care system is essential for kids to thrive and our economy to prosper. But our current approach fails kids, parents, and child care workers by every measure,” foundation President and CEO Lisa Hamilton said in a news release. “Without safe child care they can afford and get to, working parents face impossible choices, affecting not only their families, but their employers as well.”
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