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The welfare of Hoosier children continues to lag national peers, but reached an all-time high for the state in 2023 Child Counting Data Book.

Indiana hovers just above the national average at 24th, the highest ranking for the state in the past decade. But in specific categories for health care, family and community, the state finished 29th and 31st, respectively.

The Indiana Youth Institute attributed the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s ranking to a lack of affordable and affordable child care services, which the foundation said hinder economic mobility and perpetuate generational wealth gaps.

“The past two years have tested all of us, but especially our children, families and youth workers. The differences in data that emerge after 2020 reflect that,” institute president and CEO Tami Silverman said in a statement last week. “But opportunities for progress have still emerged that support Indiana’s youth. Now is the It’s time to expand and explore that progress. Our work and the work of the thousands of youth workers, educators, parents and carers is not done until all children are safe, well educated, healthy and supported.”

24th place is an improvement on last 28 yearsalthough the rankings in some sub-categories are unchanged.

The 2023 report

The authors of the report analyzed the states in four major categories: economic well-being, education, health and family and community. Each has four subcategories.

Indiana had the highest score for education, where it ranked 13th, even as math and reading proficiency declined.

Indiana scores high in economic well-being, but has mixed results from last year’s ranking. (Graph from 2023 Kids Count Data Book)

In terms of economic well-being, children in the state rank 16th, with improvements in the number of teens in school and work. The measurement of the number of children whose parents do not have secure jobs or who live in families with a high cost of housing the burden remained the same between the years analysed, at 27% and 21%, respectively.

The report found a higher number of low birth weight babies and the rate of child and adolescent deaths worsened, although Indiana’s health score improved from 31st to 29th last year. However, the state has improved by reducing the number of children without health insurance.

The state’s household and community ranking remains unchanged from the past 31 years, although the state has improved in all four subcategories. Children in single-parent families have decreased, from 35% to 33%, as has the number of children living in high-poverty areas, from 12% to 7%.

Fewer children live in households where the breadwinner does not have a high school diploma, down to 10% from 11% previously. Finally, the number of teenage births per 1,000 births decreased from 21 to 17.

But nonwhite children are still disproportionately likely to live in poverty and fall behind in other areas of economic well-being. The report finds that children who grow up in poverty are less likely to excel in school and have more risky health-related behaviors.

The importance of childcare

Research shows that stronger childcare can help children succeed in school and in life. Both the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Indiana Youth Institute have noted the benefits of high-quality, accessible, and affordable child care for families.

About 9 percent of Hoosier parents with children under the age of 5 report that they have quit, changed, or refused their jobs due to issues with child care, depressing the state’s workforce. Additionally, women are five to eight times more likely to experience negative employment consequences as a result of caring responsibilities than their male counterparts.

In many parts of the state, child care exceeds the cost of in-state tuition at a public university, averaging $7,884 or nearly 8 percent of the median income for a married couple. For the average single mother in Indiana, that represents more than a quarter of her income.

“A good childcare system is essential for children to thrive and for our economy to thrive. But our current approach fails children, parents and childcare workers in every way,” said foundation president and CEO Lisa Hamilton in a press release. “Without safe childcare they can afford and get, working parents face impossible choices, which affect not only their families, but their employers as well.”

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