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The Kids Count study ranks states annually using indicators of child well-being. Best states for child well-being
1. New Hampshire
2. Massachusetts
3. Vermont
4. New Jersey
5. Minnesota Worst states for child well-being
46. Arizona
47. Louisiana
48. Nevada
49. New Mexico
50. Mississippi How Midwestern states rank
21. Illinois
27. Ohio
31. Indiana
32. Michigan
35. Kentucky
In poverty
Children younger than 18 in poverty, northeast Indiana counties (2010):
Source: 2012 Kids County Data Book
File | The Journal Gazette

Poverty tightens its hold on youth

State rate surges to 30-year high of 22%

More than a year after the national recession officially ended, the poverty rate among Hoosier children continued to rise as many parents faced unemployment.

The 2012 Kids Count Data Book released Wednesday reports that 22 percent of Indiana children – more than one in five – lived in poverty in 2010, matching the national rate and a 2-percentage-point increase from the year before.

The annual report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation gathers data from a number of federal and state agencies, with a focus on children. Though the data is the latest available, much of it is two years old.

Not all of the state news is bleak. Indiana high school graduation rates have improved, child and teen deaths are down and fewer children are without health insurance.

In releasing the report, the Casey Foundation cited a 20 percent nationwide decline in the number of children without health insurance; a 16 percent drop in the child and teen death rate; an 11 percent decline in the rate of high school students not graduating in four years; and an 8 percent reduction in eighth-graders scoring less than proficient in math.

It also noted an increase in kids whose parents are without steady employment and the national rise in child poverty, an additional 2.4 million kids between 2005 and 2010.

"The data reveal that there is still much to be done to improve the prospects for the next generation," said Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for policy reform and data. "They also show that a child's success depends not only on individual, family and community resources, but also on the state where he or she grows up."

Indiana's rank among states in overall child well-being remained unchanged since last year at 31st, based on a number of economic, education, health and family/community indicators.

Statewide, 16.3 percent of Hoosiers – more than 1 million people – were in poverty in 2010, the highest rate in at least 30 years, according to census data released last year. That ranked Indiana 16th highest among the states and Washington, D.C.

In Allen County, the child poverty rate dropped only slightly to 19.8 percent between 2009 and 2010, still much higher than 11.6 percent recorded in 2000, according to Kids Count numbers.

Poverty drives other aspects of child well-being, said Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, a child advocacy group.

"That is something that really Indiana has been dealing with for the better part of the last decade, even predating the Great Recession," Stanczykiewicz said. "We've seen a significant increase in child poverty since the year 2000. We used to be about half the national rate. Now we're even with the national rate."

While kids in poverty can succeed, the challenges for them are greater, he added. "So that's a number that really jumps off the pages."

Though closely linked to poverty, child neglect and abuse numbers reportedly declined, according to the Kids Count study. Statewide, the rate of abuse and neglect per 1,000 children younger than 18 dropped from 15.6 to 14.5. The rate in Allen County went from 11.5 to 9.8

Rachel Tobin-Smith, executive director of SCAN, a child abuse prevention agency that serves 18 northeast Indiana counties, could not confirm the dip in Allen County cases, which Kids Count gathered from the Indiana Department of Child Services.

But, she said, the state has put concerted effort into prevention programs – case management and parenting skills – to keep families out of the system.

Still, Tobin-Smith said there has been no lack of families needing her agency's help. And while the need has increased, the money for prevention programs has not kept pace, she added.

"Poverty is a huge indicator of the health and well-being of children from everything from their chance of being a victim of child neglect and child abuse to their chance of not being able to get a good start in school and therefore a success in life moving forward," Tobin-Smith said. "When the poverty of children increases in a community the future for that community is therefore threatened, so we want to keep that poverty rate down."