Hoosier children are growing up healthier than they did last year, but their families have also gotten poorer, according to the results of a survey released Monday.
Indiana now ranks 21st in child health and 26th in economic well-being among all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book. Indiana’s overall rank improved to 30th, up one place from last year.
The new ranking for child health is up 13 spots from last year. A 20 percent decrease in the rate of child and teen deaths and a four percent drop in the number of babies born at a low birth weight between 2005 and 2010 both contributed to the new ranking.
The non-profit Indiana Youth Institute helped prepare state-level data for the report. The group’s president and CEO Bill Stanczykiewicz called the improvement in the state’s health ranking “remarkable,” but added there is still plenty of work to do.
“It’s not time to declare victory, it’s not time to exhale and say, ‘Our work is done,’” Stanczykiewicz said. “Instead, it’s time to celebrate the positive movement, discover what’s working and why and do more of that on behalf of our kids through families and communities and official programs so that this trend can continue.”
Stanczykiewicz says focused efforts in prenatal care, education for pregnant women and community anti-drug initiatives all contributed to the improvement in state health indicators for children.
Similar types of programs could benefit Hoosier kids in the area of economic well-being. According to KIDS COUNT data, nearly one-fourth of the state’s children age 18 and under comes from families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Although that figure matches the national average, Indiana’s child poverty rate grew 35 percent between 2005 and 2011, as compared to 21 percent nationwide.
“Even as economies recover, poverty lags behind curve,” Stanczykiewicz said in a statement. “There is much we can do in our communities, congregations and youth organizations to encourage youth to prepare themselves academically for the current and future jobs in Indiana that pay high wages.”
Initiatives such as those United Way of Monroe County supports could be one way to help kids of all backgrounds enter school ready to learn, and graduate ready to earn. Ashley Hall is the organization’s Community Initiatives Director. She says to ensure success, it’s important for kids from all backgrounds to leave high school with a purposeful plan.
“Nowadays, a high school diploma really just isn’t enough,” Hall said. “Having that second set of credentials is really important, whatever that may be.”
The United Way and its partner organizations, including the High School Plus Coalition, collaborate on initiatives to help individuals and families attain what they call “the building blocks of a better life”: education, earnings, and essentials. Stanczykiewicz says this combination is crucial to improving children’s current economic situation.
“If one of those links is missing – educational attainment or employment – poverty can be a very difficult situation to get away from.”
In addition to the health and economic well-being rankings, the KIDS COUNT data ranks the state 34th in education and 30th in family and community.