How well does California care for children? New report ranks state just below Kentucky
BY MICHAEL FINCH II
California’s efforts to improve health care for children is being dimmed by high rents and housing prices, poorly performing schools, expensive child care and a host of other challenges, according to a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In many ways, the report reflects a familiar story for the state: Prosperity is unevenly divided, the education system is inadequate and families are worse off because of the shortcomings in public programs. The report found that more than 13 million U.S. children live in poverty.
California made only small gains compared with last year in the foundation’s Kids Count report, which evaluates child well-being based on 16 measures that rate health, education, family and community, and economic well-being. The report found California had more than 1 million children living in impoverished areas, and more children than in any other state living in households where the parents or guardians lacked a high school education.
Overall, the state’s ranking changed from 36th to 35th.
Kentucky ranked one place higher, and Tennessee ranked just below California. Almost all of the states with lower rankings than California were in the South and Southwest, with Mississippi and New Mexico ranked as the worst.
Kelly Hardy, who oversees health and research for the nonprofit Children Now, said housing costs are “a huge piece of the puzzle” when calculating economic well being. The report, citing the American Community Survey, found that 43 percent of California households are burdened by high housing costs.
“We need to be doing better in California and nationwide to support kids and families and we can’t act like unwell or unhealthy adults fall out of the sky,” Hardy said. “We’re building them by not having those systems to help children on the front end.”
California received low marks in every category except for health for which the state was ranked 7th place. That’s largely due to the number of children who now have health coverage in the state’s Medicaid program Med-Cal. The report estimated that only 301,000 children did not have health insurance in 2017.
But that success poses yet another challenge for the state. A state audit released in March found that more than half of children covered by Med-Cal did not receive sufficient preventative health services and new federal data showed enrollment shrank by 3 percent at the end of 2018 — a drop off of about 150,000 beneficiaries.
Hardy said some falloff is to be expected as the economy improves and families move onto employer-sponsored health plans. But many advocates believe fear from changes in federal immigration policy is also to blame.
Some of it is the fact that there is such a toxic environment toward immigrants, many feel it’s no longer safe to be on Medi-Cal,” Hardy said. “We always say insurance is one piece — it’s fundamental — and yet it’s just the start.”
The report also noted that nearly seven out every 10 of state’s fourth graders are not proficient in reading. More than 70 percent of eighth graders are not proficient at math. And the number of high school students not graduating on time fell from 24 percent in the 2010-2011 school year to 17 percent in 2016-2017.
The numbers suggest an unfortunate outcome, Hardy said that was confirmed in one of Children Now’s previous reports on how prepared students are for college and careers.
“Overall, we’re seeing that only 41 percent were college and career ready in 2017. We go from a high in Santa Clara County of 60 percent to ow in Lassen County of 17 percent,” Hardy said. “We may be graduating kids fairly well, but many of them don’t appear to be ready for the next step.
“What does that mean if you get a diploma but you’re not ready for the next step?”