By Megan Banta
Conditions for children in Indiana show signs of improvement despite a growing poverty rate, according to the latest report from a project that tracks the well-being of children in the United States.
The newest data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count Data Center finds that the overall wellbeing of children in Indiana has improved slightly compared to other states. The state's overall ranking increased from 31st in 2012 to 30th in 2013.
Though Indiana's ranking for economic wellbeing dropped from 24th to 26th, the state saw improvements in its rankings for family and community, education and health.
The report shows that between 2010 and 2011, the number of children living in poverty increased nearly 6 percent and the number living in extreme poverty increased almost 17 percent.
The state also issued, on average, 10 percent more food stamps each month in 2012 than it did in 2011, and more than 16,000 additional children qualified to receive a free or reduced lunch.
Bill Stanczykiewicz, chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute, which is part of the Kids Count network and provided much of the data for Indiana the report, said the decreased in economic wellbeing wasn't surprising.
He said it reconfirms something Hoosiers "have been aware of for the better part of the last decade."
Stanczykiewicz said the increasing rate of child poverty is part of a "decade-long trend that Indiana has been wrestling with," a trend he hopes is beginning to level off.
But while Hoosier children's economic wellbeing decreased, their health improved. In 2012, Indiana ranked 34th in the nation for child health. The most recent report ranks Indiana as 21st.
Stanczykiewicz said that's a big move.
"The fact that we jumped 13 points in health is truly remarkable," Stanczykiewicz said.
He said the jump is part of a move in the right direction, especially in the areas of low birth weight babies, child deaths and the abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Child and infant deaths in Indiana dropped by 18 percent and 6 percent, respectively, between 2009 and 2010. In the same year-long period, teen births decreased by 9 percent.
And between 2010 and 2011, the number of 12-17-year-olds abusing drugs or alcohol dropped by 9 percent.
Stanczykiewicz said health has also improved in terms of uninsured Hoosier children, which decreased from 9 percent of children in Indiana to 8 percent.
But the report had conflicting data regarding Hoosier children without health insurance. While one set of data showed the decrease that Stanczykiewicz spoke of, another set showed a 2 percent increase in the number of uninsured Hoosier children.
Regardless, the data showed that children's health in Indiana is improving. And Stanczykiewicz said there is still more room for improvement.
"It's not to say we claim victory and we're done," he said.
He said the state should look at what is working to make these trends improve and do more of whatever that may be.
Ken Severson, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Health, said his department would not comment on the report.
Stanczykiewicz said the report, as a whole, shows the "premium on the need for education after high school."
"We need our kids knowing that the high school diploma is not enough," he said.
Stanczykiewicz said Hoosiers need to be thinking beyond high school, even if that just means an apprenticeship or a two-year associate degree. He said research has shown that postsecondary education tends to lead to better economic well-being, a higher chance of good health and a more stable family environment. Those factors, he said, then foster a positive attitude about education, which starts the circle over again.
Megan Banta is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.