Make changes to show kids do count

It can be intimidating every time the Annie E. Casey Foundation releases its annual National Kids Count Data Book.

Looking through the statistics, comparing state to state and last year’s numbers to this year’s, it can be difficult to decipher their real meaning. However, there were some highlights in this year’s report that caught our attention.

Between 2008 and 2014 the data show a 32 percent drop in Hoosier teen birth rates; a 39 percent drop in the percentage of kids abusing drugs and alcohol; and a 27 percent improvement in teens who did not graduate high school on time. Progress is being made, but there is one overarching area that is very troubling.

Too many kids are living in poverty in Indiana. The data show that 22 percent of Hoosier children under the age of 18 live in poverty, which is a 4 percent increase from seven years ago.

Tami Silverman, president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute, the organization that distributes and analyzes Kids Count data, said it’s good that Indiana is making strides in certain areas. “At the same time, I don’t think any of us are happy with Indiana being ranked 30th” in the country overall when it comes to child well-being, Silverman said.

Silverman said children living in poverty represent a cycle among families that can be difficult to break. Oftentimes the head of the household has not graduated high school, which significantly limits job opportunities. That, in turn, can lead to struggles in providing basic needs, such as food, clothing, medicine and shelter.

The public has a role to play in improving Indiana’s standing when it comes to child well-being. There are youth service organizations throughout St. Joseph County where people can volunteer. Silverman suggested people approach local school boards to ask what can be done to help improve reading and math scores. There is a role to play, too, for faith-based organizations.

But beyond the public, it is the duty of state and local policymakers, educators and child advocates to use this information to make the sort of changes that show kids in the Hoosier state really do matter.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.