Groups look to improve kids’ well-being

Hundreds of data points flashed across the projector screen, but two that caught the attention of a domestic violence prevention specialist during the State of the Child presentation spoke to economic disparity that exists in Bartholomew County.

Amy Schnapp-Brunnemer said she was surprised that while the county’s per capita personal income of $47,386 as of 2016 exceeded the state average by more than $4,000, which ranked it seventh, more than one-third of local public school students qualified for free or reduced lunches, according to Indiana Youth Institute data.

Among the state’s 92 counties, Bartholomew in 2016 had the 31st-lowest percentage of public-school students eligible for free or reduced school lunches at 36.1 percent. Scott County held the distriction of having Indiana’s highest rate of lunch assistance at 63.4 percent, while Hamilton was lowest at 11.7 percent.

Monday’s State of the Child Presentation, in the Terrace Room of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Administration Building, was organized by the Council for Youth Development, United Way of Bartholomew County and the Community Education Coalition to show a snapshot of Indiana and the county, and the challenges children face in multiple areas, including health, safety and education.

About 50 people representing agencies and organizations that deal with children, teens and young adults attended the presentation — the first time Columbus has hosted an Indiana Youth Institute State of the Child presentation, said Heather Carson, family success coordinator for the Council for Youth Development.

Data analysis

The presentation included information presented by Youth Institute data and research personnel, and breakout groups to discuss the data and possible solutions.

Bob Moats, an iGrad team leader who mentors local students, said his breakout group expressed concern about the support services that drop off as parents move toward higher wages needed for self sufficiency. The loss of support services can undermine the transition process and impact children in the process, he said.

“There has to be scaffolding available to help. You just don’t say it’s the magic day and you’re off everything,” Moats said.

One of those supports is help with child care. That’s important because the average annual cost of child care in Bartholomew County is $9,196, putting it toward the higher end statewide. Pike County had the cheapest child care at $4,381 while Hamilton County had the highest at $12,883, according to Youth Institute data.

Other concerns raised were that Indiana has experienced a 58 percent increase in the number of children going into the foster care system, and that the state’s rate of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect has increased 52.5 percent over five years. Drug and/or alcohol abuse often was the reason, said Katie Kincaid, IYI data and research manager.

The numbers reflect trends observed by Advocates for Children, a Columbus-based agency that serves the best interests of abused and neglected children in the court system in Bartholomew, Jennings and Decatur counties. Each of the past four years, at least 84 percent of the cases it has handled in Bartholomew County have involved substance abuse.

Rick Scalf, community outreach coordinator for Advocates for Children, said he was glad to see that the Youth Institute mentioned Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers, which the agency uses to advocate for children’s best interests, as a way to help abused and neglected children.

He also considered the presentation beneficial.

“Anytime you get a group of action-minded folks together to look at data and find solutions, it’s a great opportunity,” Scalf said.

Carson said she was glad to see broad representation of youth-oriented agencies at the presentation, as well as some local government elected officials.

“It helps create broader discussion of how to help improve the wellness of people throughout the county,” Carson said.

The presentation also served as a good follow-up to the work the Council for Youth Development did in creating its Youth Master Plan — a collaborative initiative to improve the development and well-being of local children, Carson said.

The master plan took about a year to develop and has been rolled out to the community since the beginning of the year.

What's next

The Indiana Youth Institute, in conjunction with Council for Youth Development, United Way of Bartholomew County and the Community Education Coalition, will have a presentation May 18 about developmental assets and adverse childhood experiences. Time and location are to be announced.

For information and data from the Indiana Youth Institute, visit iyi.org

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.