State girls lagging behind rest of U.S.

(Bloomington) Herald-Times

Girls aren’t doing as well in Indiana as they are in most states in the nation.

That conclusion can be drawn from “The State of Girls: Thriving or Surviving???” The index to girls’ well-being was published by the Girl Scout Research Institute.

Indiana ranks 36th out of 50 states in the index, which measures the physical health and safety, economic well-being, education, emotional health and extracurricular activities of the roughly 570,000 Hoosier girls from ages 5 to 17. Several issues can be gleaned from the data.

First, the largest problems for girls in Indiana are their physical health and safety and their emotional health. The state ranks No. 44 on both measures. It’s logical the two would both be bad or both be good, since physical health, safety and emotional health can be linked.

Indiana lawmakers need to address why this is the case. Why are girls in Indiana less safe and less healthy than their counterparts in other states?

Could it be a lack of high-quality early-childhood education? The study shows that Hoosier girls ages 3 and 4 lag behind their counterparts by a large amount. In Indiana, the study states, 39 percent of girls ages 3 and 4 are enrolled in a preschool. The national percentage is 48 percent.

Unfortunately, the study doesn’t get into what kinds of preschools are involved. And they can differ from high-quality facilities based in education and socialization to glorified baby-sitting options.

Still, the percentages suggest girls in other states are getting an earlier start on learning skills that could help them in a number of ways. And the figure adds to the curiosity of Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to turn down federal funding that would have expanded preschool options in Indiana.

Another key area is poverty. Hoosiers should be ashamed and alarmed that 20 percent of all girls in Indiana ages 5 to 17 are living in poverty. Among African-American girls, that percentage rises to 42; for Hispanic/Latina girls, it’s 38.

Poverty is at the root of many issues, including the well-being of girls. That’s true of boys, too, but this study didn’t include them, so that topic will have to wait for another time.

The study also shows that 12 percent of girls ages 6 to 17 need treatment for emotional/behavioral/developmental issues in Indiana — compared with

9 percent nationwide. And 14 percent have experienced violence in their neighborhood — compared with 11 percent nationwide.

Organizations such as the Girl Scouts, Girls Inc. and the Boys and Girls Club help provide stability and programming for young girls in our community. But they need help.

Clearly the problems facing girls deserve the attention of Indiana’s policymakers. They should have a higher profile in the next session of the General Assembly.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to