Report: Indiana children living in poverty up since 2008

Nearly two-thirds of Lawrence Township children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
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A nationwide report released Tuesday finds Indiana doing only an average job of caring for its children. When compared to other states, Hoosier kids rank 19th in economic well-being, 26th in education and 27th in health.

The study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation highlights some more alarming local numbers. Since the start of the recession in 2008, the number of Indianapolis children living in poverty jumped from 24 percent to more than 32 percent.

The numbers are affecting schools, crime and justice.

About 450 children get free summer lunches every day from Harrison Hill Elementary in Lawrence. Principal Natalie Stewart sees kids hungry for a decent meal, a safe place and caring adults.

"They need it desperately." she said.


"Some of them, yes," Stewart replied.

Almost two-thirds of Lawrence Township school children are now eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches. The recession left one in three Indianapolis children living in poverty.

High poverty is often associated with high crime. The Indiana Youth Institute tracks the numbers and serves as an advocate for children and families.

"Poverty rids you of hope. It robs you of hope," said vice president Glenn Augustine. "Some people are going to turn the wrong way."

But the institute is seeing some hopeful numbers. Despite the alarming increase in violent crime and the perceived increase in young criminals, it found a 50 percent decrease in Marion County juveniles incarcerated in state prisons. Statewide, there's been an almost 40 percent drop in young people locked in juvenile detention facilities.

Decreases are attributed to increases of the numbers of first-time young offenders sent to educational, counseling and other alternative programs, instead of locked cells.

"When you intervene with these lower level offenders, keep them out of the juvenile system and work with them, you have less recidivism than if you lock them away," Augustine explained.

Harrison Hill is intervening early before any trouble starts. A summer learning and club program is expanding to the school year. Students will have after school tutoring, clubs and mentors.

The principal is excited.

"We know that one coach, that one relationship, could be what keep that student and makes them graduate high school," Stewart said.

And that could keep them out of trouble.

"Absolutely," she answered confidently.

More people are talking about more programs aimed at getting children and teenagers help before they get in trouble. We're hearing it from the mayor, police chief, schools, even some state lawmakers.

Money, however, is an issue.

The program at Harrison Hill Elementary is possible only because of a $136,000 grant from the United Way.