When DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble and Steuben counties’ numbers for mental health providers are compared to the recommended ratio, they come up short, according to figures in the Indiana Youth Institute 2020 Kids Count Data Book.

IYI’s data book examines indicators in the categories of health, family and community, economic well-being and education. “It’s in all our best interest to make sure each and every child is healthy, engaged and supported, and to do so we must first understand their current reality,” said Tami Silverman, IYI president and CEO.

Regarding mental health providers, Indiana’s four northeast counties are seriously out of alignment, Silverman said. The recommended ratio is one mental health provider for every 250 people.

Statewide, the ratio of population to mental health providers was 670 to one in 2018.

In DeKalb the ratio was 1,710 to one; in LaGrange, 3,020 to one; in Noble, 1,220 to one; and in Steuben the ratio was 1,330 to one.

“You (in the four counties) have a considerable challenge in accessing mental health providers,” Silverman said. “LaGrange County is especially low on mental health providers.”

On a brighter note, “In your counties the number of children living in poverty went down and the median household income went up,” Silverman pointed out. “That is a positive; in your communities, the number of kids in poverty is lower than the state average so that is a really strong point.”

A surprise — and a cause for concern — is that Indiana’s high school graduation rate has been decreasing since 2014 and currently matches the state’s lowest graduation rate in the past five years (87.2%).

Indiana’s high school graduation rate was 87.3 percent (four-year cohort) in 2019.

The 2019 graduation rates (four-year cohort) in the four counties were generally better than the state number: DeKalb, 90.3 percent; 89.2 percent in LaGrange; Noble, 89.7 percent; and Steuben, 83.6 percent.

Last year, Indiana had more cases of suspected child maltreatment than any neighboring state, a large amount (81.2%) of which included neglect. Neglect and abuse are estimated to be five times higher for children of lower economic status than that of peers with higher economic status. Young children are also at greater risk, over half (53%) of children experiencing maltreatment were under age 6.

The number of children living in poverty (18%) continues to decrease in Indiana; the percentage translates to a national ranking of 28th.

Risk of poverty is heightened in single parent households and families experiencing transition.

DeKalb County, with 39.5 percent of its families headed by a single parent, ranked No 9 in the state in 2018 for single parent households.

Indiana’s ranking in education was 21st, a significant drop from last year’s national ranking of 14th, the IYI press release said. Education challenges often begin at a young age, with Indiana’s pre-kindergarten enrollment rates placing Indiana among the lowest in the nation (42nd).

“While we have a considerable amount of work to do, a bright spot remains that Indiana students in 4th and 8th grade are scoring better in math and reading than their peers nationally,” Silverman said.

Vaping is on the rise and threatens the health of Hoosier teens. “We can see the popularity and usage of electronic vapor product steadily growing from a student’s 9th grade year to 12th,” according to the IYI press release. Two out of five high school seniors have admitted to using JUUL or an electronic vapor product.

“Cigarette smoking rates are going down,” Silverman said. It appears that vaping among young people is still not associated with risk.

Indiana’s child population is more diverse than the adult population. “It’s important to know what the needs are for those children to be successful in their schools,” Silverman said.

With 14.9 percent of its student in 2019 classified as “English learner students,” LaGrange County ranked No. 2 in the state for English learner students.

Despite some of the good economic news, the numbers of students in the four counties experiencing homelessness have risen since 2015. For each of the four counties, the numbers, starting with 2015, are: DeKalb, 57, 93, 83, 158, 93; LaGrange, 25, 8, 50, 91, 98; Noble, 13, 37, 59, 52, 106; Steuben, 32, 48, 44, 70, 77.

The IYI encourages communities to use the data book’s numbers as a starting point for conversations and activation. The entire book is available online in the “Data & Research” section of iyi.org.

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