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Poverty at root of many problems for Indiana children

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By Mary Kuhlman

Poverty is among the biggest challenges faced by children in Indiana, according to the results of an annual Indiana Youth Institute summary.

Although the economy is rebounding from the recession, the 2015 Kids Count Data Book finds 22 percent of children in the state are living in poverty. Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, says family and economic structures need to improve before that figure improves for children.

"We see the unemployment go down, and we see wages slowing creeping up," he says. "We hear about the growth in Gross Domestic Product, both at the state and national level, but child poverty still is stubbornly high."

More than 40 percent of Indiana children are born to single mothers, which Stanczykiewicz says is another contributor to the high child poverty rate. He says another factor is many jobs require higher education levels which parents often don't have the resources to obtain.

According to the Data Book survey, 30 percent of Indiana children in 2012 lived in families where neither parent had regular, full-time employment.

In addition to the physical effects of poverty, Stanczykiewicz says there are psychological effects. He says poor children need to believe their efforts matter, and that they can have successful futures.

"It's so easy for kids to think that success is for somebody else, opportunity is for somebody else," he says. "It's for people with a different skin color than me, or who live in a different part of town, and therefore, why should I even try?' There's this utter hopelessness that can settle in."

Infant mortality is another area state leaders have been working to address. The Data Book says Indiana infants are 25 percent more likely to die within their first year of life than the national average. Stanczykiewicz says one in six Indiana mothers smoke while pregnant, which he sees as a major contributor.

"When mom smokes, it's just so dangerous for the healthy birth and survival of her baby," says Stanczykiewicz. "There certainly are other issues related to proper prenatal care, in terms of safe sleep, in terms of proper nutrition for the child."

According to Stanczykiewicz, almost one in five Indiana teens say they've considered suicide in the past year, which is the highest rate in the nation. The state is also ranked second in the nation for its percentage of children who have one parent in prison.

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