Alarming New Report Shows California’s Child Well-Being Statistics

According to a new survey this week, California’s children’s overall well-being is in the bottom third of all states.

The “2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being” report’s authors discovered that more children and teens per 100,000 died than in previous years, more than half of California’s 3- and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in school, and less than one-fourth of the state’s eighth graders are proficient in math.

The states that are spending extensively in their children are those where we see the greatest development, according to Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who oversaw the report’s preparation.

The annual study, which is in its 35th year and is released by the foundation, a private philanthropic and research organization, assesses children’s well-being using 16 variables that fall into the areas of family and community, education, health, and economic well-being.

California came in 43rd place overall, 35th place in education, 10th place in health, and 37th place in family and community among all states.

Only in terms of the health indicator did California’s kids perform better than those in most other states. Despite this, the proportion of low-birth-weight babies climbed slightly from 7.1% in 2019 to 7.4% in 2022, and the number of deaths involving children and teenagers increased from 18 per 100,000 in 2019 to 22 per 100,000 in 2022.

According to Boissiere, “the movement in indicators usually follows investments, and it depends on the specific state of how they’re investing in their children.”

According to Boissiere, the study this year mainly concentrated on comparing data from 2019 and 2022 in order to give readers a pre- and post-pandemic perspective on how youngsters are doing. The U.S. Department of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were among the data’s primary sources.

Effects of poor health on long-term absence
The report’s findings, according to the authors, put the discussion around chronic absenteeism—defined as missing 10% or more of the academic year—into context.

California had a sharp increase in the percentage of chronically absent pupils from the pre-pandemic figure of 12.1% in the 2018–19 school year to 30% in 2021–2022. Though the causes of such high absenteeism differ from district to district and even from student to student, experts concur that when children’s basic needs are not satisfied, the problem is made worse.

Boissiere stated, “What we know is that it’s critically important that all children arrive in the classroom ready to learn and that their basic needs have to be met in order for them to be ready to learn.”

The report’s national data emphasized the connection between absences and academic achievement. Students’ reading performance decreases with increasing absences from school.

In 2022, 40% of fourth-grade students nationally who had no absences in the month prior to taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, were found to be competent readers. When students missed one or two days of school in a given month, their reading competence dropped to 34%; when they missed three or more days, it dropped to 28%; when they missed five or ten days, it dropped to 25%; and when they missed more than ten days in a month before taking the NAEP, it dropped to 14%.

Additionally, the authors discovered that almost all of the report’s index measures heavily factor in racial disparities.

“Children of color face high hurdles to success on many indicators as a result of discriminatory policies and practices that persist and generations-long inequities,” the authors concluded.

For instance, the authors discovered that Black children’s rates of child and teen mortality nationwide had “alarming increases,” and that Native American or American Indian children “were more than twice as likely to lack health insurance.”

Notable disparities were also revealed when racial demographic data was disaggregated.

For instance, the authors discovered that children from Asian and Pacific Islands had one of the lowest rates of poverty in the country, at 11%; Burmese children had a rate of poverty of 29%, while children from Mongolia and Thailand had rates of 24% and 23%, respectively. The report highlights the striking poverty rates for many Asian children countrywide, with the national average for child poverty being 16%.

The scientists examined specific racial disparities and discovered instances in which youngsters of color performed better than the national average. For instance, Black children had a higher likelihood of having a head of household with at least a high school degree, being insured, and attending school between the ages of three and four. Latino adolescents and teenagers were less likely to be low birth weight and had reduced death rates.

According to the authors, children of color now make up the majority of children in the nation, as well as in 14 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Our ability to guarantee every child has the opportunity to succeed will determine the future prosperity of our country.”

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