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California's children falling through the cracks, says study on kids' well-being

A new report by the group Children Now paints a bleak picture of the well-being of many of California's children.
A new report by the group Children Now paints a bleak picture of the well-being of many of California's children.
Photo by DIBP images via Flickr Creative Commons

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New information out Wednesday shows kids across 58 counties in California are faring poorly overall when it comes to education, health and socio-economic outcomes. 

Compiled every two years by the nonpartisan research group, Children Now, the 2014-2015 scorecard paints a bleak picture for many California children, particularly those who live in counties with concentrations of impoverished families. 

"While some counties may be doing better than others, as a whole we are failing our children," said Jessica Mindnich, research director for Children Now. "Despite having a large economy and more children than any other state, we are allowing too many to fall through the cracks and denying them the opportunity to be productive, healthy and engaged citizens."

The data that Children Now collects and compiles come from publicly available local, state and national sources. It was used to evaluate how children are doing based on a series of key indicators. 

Overall, California’s kids do not fare well when compared to other states, according to the data. 

"Not only are we at the bottom nationally," Mindnich said, "but we have pretty large disparities across the state based on where kids live."

The information reviewed includes statistics such as the number of kids who have health insurance for an entire year, those under five who are read to every day, and the number aged zero to three who do not experience neglect and abuse. After looking at all the data, researchers gave each county a star rating for particular areas, including education and health. One star is poor and five stars the best.

"It was really [the area of] health where counties seem to be struggling the most," Mindnich said. "Imperial County was at one star out of five, Kern County was at one and a half, San Bernadino was at two stars," she said. 

No California county received five stars for health, Mindnich said.

The organization also released a new interactive web tool that allows users to drill down into the finer details of the collected information. In the easily searchable county-by-county online index, users can compare outcomes year-over-year and stack one county against another or to the state as a whole.

A quick search of literacy outcomes, for example, shows that last year only 36 percent of third-graders in Inyo County were reading at grade level compared to 52 percent in Orange County. 

In Los Angeles County, 53 percent of children were in a healthy weight zone, yet only 41 percent can afford basic living expenses. 

Mindnich says she hopes the tool will be used by communities to improve outcomes for children as did San Diego, where lawmakers used a previous scorecard to help get more kids to the dentist.

"When we look at the oral health indicator, which is the percentage of children who receive an annual check up, that indicator was very low [in San Diego] and that actually spurred legislation," she said. 

The data is broken down by race and ethnicity for most categories, so it is also possible to look at one group of children compared to others. 

Rural counties tend to have greater concentrations of poverty, and they fare worse than other counties across all indicators. For example, Inyo County "struggles a little bit more because it is rural where health access is harder," said Mindnich.

Overall, counties that have higher income tend to do better across all the indicators, and Mindnich offers Marin County as an example of a county that is generally doing well.

At the bottom end is Imperial County, which "fares worse because there are greater needs there and there aren't always additional resources to address the needs," Mindnich said.