Data shows mental health, education declines for Hoosier kids

According to the Indiana Youth Institute, the kids weren’t doing well.

Hoosier State continues to lag behind its peers in child welfare, ranked 28th overall – only one place in front of him last year’s ranking. But it has made strides in reducing the number of foster children in the state.

“Just as we keep statistics for all of our basketball games… we also track data on child well-being,” said Tami Silverman, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. “We were driven by the understanding that Indiana is a great place to be a kid – for me, of course. But it hasn’t been like that for all the kids.”

The organization annually releases it Children Count Data Book, documenting child well-being across metrics that include: family and community, health, economy, and education. Across six issues, Indiana’s rankings barely budged.

The 2023 report details mental health challenges for young people, a shortage of child care providers, and learning barriers for Hoosier children.

Cost, barriers to access to health care services

Whether primary care, dental care, or mental health care – large parts of Indiana are experiencing shortages. Half of the neglected parents told surveyors they had difficulty accessing appointments while a third said cost was a major concern.

Taylor Johnson, policy advocacy and data manager for the Indiana Youth Institute, notes that even schools lack support staff.

Teenager suicidal ideation from time to time. (From the Indiana Youth Institute’s Child Counting Databook 2023)

“(Reported) ratios show that children in Indiana schools in particular lack access to social workers and psychologists who can provide valuable resources for processing and coping with the problems many of our students face across the state,” Johnson said. “We had four and a half more items of students per psychologist than the recommended number and 11 times more students per social worker.”

Hoosier students report higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. But the states, all of which are considered mental health care wastelands, don’t have a lot of resources for kids.

“We know that every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or income can experience a variety of mental health problems. However, the data shows that certain groups – particularly our black, Hispanic and multiracial students – have poorer mental health compared to their peers,” Johnson said.

One in four Hoosier students seriously considers suicide while one in five makes plans. In total, one in nine students attempts suicide at some point in their life.

“We all know these statistics aren’t just percentages on slides or numbers in reports – they represent our children, our students, our communities,” Johnson said. “Many of these children, especially those who cannot find the care they need, the answer in their minds… is suicide.”

The numbers are even worse for LGBTQ youth.

For gay, lesbian, or bisexual youth, nearly two-thirds had seriously considered suicide while more than half had made plans. One in five of these students attempted suicide.

The organization analyzed data from the Department of Health, which does not isolate suicidal ideation based on gender identity, but other research shows that suicidal ideation and attempts are even higher among transgender youth – especially those whose households or communities disapprove.

“This is a wide and concerning gap. It is clear that many of our students in Indiana experience declining mental health and suicidal thoughts… students who are Black, Hispanic, multicultural (or) members of the LGBTQ community experience these problems at much higher levels,” Johnson said.

Improvements for Hoosier youth

The report highlights one area of ​​improvement for Hoosiers kids: foster children. Since 2018, the number of foster children has decreased by 40% or 13,600 children.

Taylor Johnson, with the Indiana Youth Institute, presents data to the Indiana Senate House. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Bri Youn, data and research manager for the Indiana Youth Institute, notes that children of color – including black and multiracial children – are disproportionately represented among foster youth.

“Our work and progress in this area as a country certainly deserves recognition, but we must not be complacent in our efforts,” he said. “Research continues to show that children are successful when they are reunited with their families but only when those families have access to adequate services and assistance that will enable them to become better parents.”

In addition, fewer children live in poverty and fewer teenage births occur. The number of children without health insurance also decreased, as did the number of children living in households with unstable jobs.

What does this mean for the General Assembly?

Even though the legislative session was only halfway through, Silverman noted his organizational efforts throughout the year, offering the institute as a resource for drafting legislation or adding to their knowledge.

One area that has received a lot of attention at this session is mental health, which the senator cited as one of them priority issue. Senate Bill 1 moving forward through the process but doesn’t have a price tag yet.

“We are very happy to see all the focus on mental health. The data is very, very clear that for our children – even into the pandemic – that clinical depression and anxiety are tremendous problems for our children,” said Silverman.

When asked about childcare, which was highlighted in the report, he stressed the issue of state capacity. While the current budget proposal expands the eligibility of child care subsidies, advocates say it is not enough.

“We have working families who have to make tough decisions – do they not take jobs? Are they walking away from work because of a lack of access?” Silverman said. “We need to think about ways that we can provide higher quality care for our children.”