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Kids Count: Ending California child poverty requires new approaches



File: Beverly Gardener looks after her 3-year-old grandson in Compton. Gardener started working at Small World Preschool in 1977, but lost her job when the new provider took over.
File: Beverly Gardener looks after her 3-year-old grandson in Compton. Gardener started working at Small World Preschool in 1977, but lost her job when the new provider took over.
Deepa Fernandes/KPCC

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A new report out Wednesday examines California's 1.3 million population of impoverished children and those in other states and asks why their numbers remain stubbornly high after decades of social service programs. 

According to a new Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, there are more children living in poverty in California than in any other state. It's not a surprise as California has the largest population in the country, but it's the scale of child poverty here that compounds the problem, said Jessica Mindnich, California director for Kids Count. 

"This is challenging because of the sheer number of poor and low-income children and families in California that makes this difficult to solve," she said. "You add to that that we have very dispersed systems: one that is serving parents and one that’s serving children."

Low-income parents are dealing with multiple challenges, and the public assistance programs they can access to help make ends meet are rarely calibrated to work together, according to the report. The authors suggest integrating and expanding assistance programs so that they target the family as a whole.

Employment is key, the authors said. "A family-supporting job that provides a steady source of parental income and opportunities for advancement is critical to moving children out of poverty."

The report notes 51 percent of all of California's low-income children age 8 and under do not have a parent with a stable, full-time, year-round job. One related problem: parents in low-wage jobs often work schedules that are inflexible and oftentimes unpredictable, which the authors said "compound the strain of supporting a family." 

Education and financial stability are also intertwined: low-income families headed by single-parents with only a high school diploma earn about half of what is needed to cover the basic costs of raising children, the report said.

In California, 83 percent of children in poverty have no parent with an associate degree or higher.

Mindnich said community colleges could collaborate better with child care providers to help parents attend classes and earn their degrees.

"Let's take the case of a mother trying to get her GED," she said. "Her classes are in the evening but her child attends Head Start in the morning. How is she going to be able to attend her classes?" 

Unless the mother can find childcare in the evening, she’s likely to drop out of school, Mindnich said. That will limit the kind of work and income she can get to raise her children. 

The report makes several recommendations, among them:

1. Increase the child tax credit for low-income parents.

2. Build child care and early education into programs aimed at employment and education for those with low-income.

3. Integrate public agencies to move families toward financial stability, such as adopting a no-wrong-door approach that connects families with needed programs wherever they enter the system.