Growing up in California in 2016: Here's how kids fare

Glassell Park ETK teacher, Ms Pineda, works with a small group of six children on a sponge painting project.
Glassell Park ETK teacher, Ms Pineda, works with a small group of six children on a sponge painting project.
Deepa Fernandes / KPCC

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What is it like to be a child growing up in California in 2016? A new report that analyzes indicators of child well-being paints a bleak picture: Large numbers of Californian children live in poverty, and educational and health outcomes statewide are, at best, fair.

The non-partisan research group Children Now conducted the analysis. It used census, American Community Survey, Department of Education, school district and other data sources to build a picture of how children are faring statewide across a broad range of economic, health and education outcomes.

The report asks questions like: How many children attend preschool? How many children are reading at grade level by third grade? Do children have health insurance for the entire year? Are newborns exclusively breastfed? (You can see a full list of the indicators the group used to gauge child well-being here.)

The Californian counties where children are most likely to be thriving are in Northern California. Marin, Napa and San Mateo counties have the fewest kids in poverty and more kids reading at grade level in third grade. In these counties, more children have health insurance, are a healthy weight, and were probably breast-fed.

In Southern California counties, children don’t fare so well. In Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, about one quarter of all children live in poverty. Children in Kern county were worse off, 33 percent were living in “concentrated poverty.”

Report author Jessica Mindnich said when a child lives in a neighborhood where 30 percent or more of children are impoverished, it makes life harder. “This impacts the resources in your direct community,” she said.

The report also tracked early education indicators, and just over half of all LA County and San Bernardino children aged zero to five were read to every day. Yet in San Bernardino county, just 36 percent of three and four year-olds attend preschool, and that very same number of children are reading at grade level in third grade.

L.A. County children are better off – 52 percent of three and four year-olds were enrolled in preschool last year. The statewide average for preschool is just 47 percent of all children. Report authors noted they did not assess the quality of the preschool programs; rather they looked simply whether children are enrolled.

Yet stark disparities exist in educational outcomes for children in counties statewide. Even in Orange County, which has the best scores for Southern California counties, with 50 percent of their third graders reading at grade level, children of color are not performing as well as their white peers. Nearly 70 percent of white third graders are hitting that benchmark, compared to only 39 percent of African-American students in this age group and to 31 percent of Latino third graders.

This is not unique to Orange County, Mindnich said. “It’s the same pattern across all counties and we’re trying to make the point that we need schools to make sure that they are meeting the needs of all our kids.”

When it comes to the health of children, one area stood out. Low-income kids in Southern California are not seeing a dentist. In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, only one quarter of poor children aged zero to three had a dentist visit in the last year.

While nearly all L.A. County children had health insurance year-round, only 11 percent of children with asthma were given a written asthmatic plan – the state average for children in this category is 26 percent.

Check out how children in your country are doing here.