COLUMN: How the opioid crisis and child poverty are hurting Southeast Indiana kids

'The data is really a launching point for action'

CINCINNATI -- It’s the age-old dilemma of deciding which to give you first: The good news or the bad news.

The 2018 Indiana KIDS COUNT Data Book released this morning by Indiana Youth Institute has plenty of both when it comes to the state of Southeast Indiana’s children.

Each year the institute reviews thousands of numbers as part of a national effort to gauge the well-being of children at the local, state and national level. Organizations across the country examine information related to health, education, economics, safety and family with the results from different states coming out at different times throughout the year.

WCPO decided to focus on two aspects of the Indiana report: childhood poverty and how the opioid crisis is impacting kids in Dearborn, Ohio, Ripley and Switzerland counties.

That’s where the good news-bad news comes into the picture.

The good news is that childhood poverty rates decreased in three of those four counties. Ripley County was the exception, with its percentage of children living in poverty going from 15.1 percent in 2013 to 17.9 percent in 2016, the most recent data available for the study.

“It’s both a victory and still a call to action,” Tami Silverman, the president and CEO of Indiana Youth Institute, said of the results. “The percent of kids living in poverty is starting to inch down, but not at the same rate that it is for the general economy.”

Tami Silverman

That’s because there are still parents of young children who haven’t been able to enter the workforce because of a lack of quality, affordable childcare and transportation, she said.

“If we talk to any business organization or sector, they say there’s a demand for employees right now,” she said. “Well we have some folks that are at home that would like to work, but they don’t have childcare. So let’s start talking about childcare and transportation as a path to full employment.”

So the good news is that rates of childhood poverty are -- for the most part -- going in the right direction in the Southeast Indiana. And more good news: Median incomes have increased in all of those counties.

But when it comes to how the opioid crisis has impacted Southeast Indiana kids, the news is less encouraging.

‘What about the kids at home?’

Every Southeast Indiana county in our region saw an increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths between 2013 and 2016, according to the report.

Dearborn and Ripley counties saw their child abuse and neglect rates increase during that time, too.

Dearborn County went from 10.1 cases of substantiated abuse or neglect for every 1,000 children in 2013 to 24.9 substantiated cases for every 1,000 children in 2016.

Ripley County went from 11.5 cases of substantiated abuse or neglect for every 1,000 children in 2013 to 18.9 substantiated cases for every 1,000 children in 2016.

And across all four counties, there were more children living with a foster parent in 2016 than in 2013.

 

2018 Indiana KIDS COUNT chart for Southeast Indiana counties in Greater Cincinnati region by lucy.may

All those measures show how hard the opioid crisis is hitting Indiana’s children, Silverman said.

Many of the adults caught up in the crisis are between the ages of 25 and 34, she noted, so it makes sense that those adults have young children in their households that are being impacted by their addictions.

“With opioid use, it’s really that neglect component. Because the abuse is so prevalent in the home, the kids aren’t getting fed. They’re not getting access to medical care. They’re not being transported to school. They’re not able to go to school. They’re not getting enough sleep so they can’t pay attention in school,” Silverman said. “There is so much emphasis and so much great work going on right now as far as the interventions for the users themselves. However, we still need to keep saying: ‘What about the kids at home? What’s going on with the kids? How are we supporting those children?’”

If we don’t do that, Silverman warned, the community will feel the consequences.

“If we don’t, then two years, five years, 10 years from now, we’re going to have a lot of achievement gaps that are directly the result of this opioid crisis and the kids that did not get the care and the support that they needed in those formative years,” she said.

Building on strength

Before you start thinking that the welfare of these kids doesn’t impact you -- think again.

Teachers and social workers aren’t the only ones paying attention to these results.

Eric Kranz said the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce pays close attention to the KIDS COUNT results each year, too.

“It’s about having a strong talent pool for our employers, being able to have enough employees that can fill the jobs, especially as the economy gets better,” said Kranz, who is president and CEO of the Dearborn County chamber. “And that starts at a young age.”

Kranz had not seen the latest KIDS COUNT numbers but was pleased to hear that childhood poverty rates were down in his county and that median income had increased.

Business leaders pay attention to a broad range of factors in the KIDS COUNT report to gauge whether their community is headed in the right direction, he said.

“A strong community just kind of builds on itself so the stronger that we are, it just continues to get better,” he said. “I just think the better that things are for you growing up, the more likely you are to remain here, start your company here or come back here after college.”

Eric Kranz

Kranz said he hopes a stronger economy will play a part in addressing the opioid crisis, too.

“That hopefully reduces the need or the desire for that escapism,” he said.

In the meantime, communities can pick apart the good and the bad for themselves in the new KIDS COUNT report using data on the Indiana Youth Institute’s website.

Silverman said the goal is for people in the community, whether they are school board members or church groups or city council members or chamber of commerce members, to look at the numbers and rankings and ask themselves:

• How are we stacking up?

• Are we achieving the outcomes we thought we were?

• Are we providing the education we thought we were?

• Are our kids as safe as we want them to be?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, the numbers are designed to inform the conversation that follows.

“For us, the data is really a launching point for action,” Silverman said. “It is intended to say, what can we as a community do to better the outcomes and well-being of our kids?”

And that’s a question we should all want to answer.

The 2018 Indiana KIDS COUNT Data Book is available on the Indiana Youth Institute's website.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region -- to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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