California Ranked Towards Bottom in Overall Child Well-Being, According to Latest Report

In terms of overall well-being, California’s children are positioned in the lower one-third of all states, as per recent findings in a report unveiled this week.

The release of the “2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being” highlighted concerning statistics for California. The report revealed that more than 50% of 3- and 4-year-olds in California are not enrolled in school, only about 25% of its eighth graders show proficiency in math, and the number of child and teen deaths per 100,000 increased compared to previous years.

“States that demonstrate the most significant improvements are those that heavily invest in the welfare of their children,” noted Leslie Boissiere, the vice president of external affairs at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who led the report’s compilation.

Published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropic and research organization, the “2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book” evaluates children’s well-being using 16 indicators across education, economic well-being, health, and family and community categories.

California’s ranking across different categories is as follows: 43rd in economic well-being, 35th in education, 10th in health, and 37th in family and community.

While California performed relatively better in health indicators compared to other states, there was a slight increase in the percentage of babies born with low birth weight, rising from 7.1% in 2019 to 7.4% in 2022. Additionally, the number of child and teen deaths increased from 18 per 100,000 in 2019 to 22 per 100,000 in 2022.

“Progress in these indicators reflects the level of investments made, which varies based on individual state priorities,” Boissiere stated.

The latest report predominantly focused on contrasting data from 2019 and 2022 to present a view of children’s welfare before and after the pandemic, using sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Effects of Low Well-Being on Chronic Absenteeism

The findings of the report shed light on chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10% or more of the school year.

Chronic absenteeism in California surged from 12.1% in the 2018-19 school year to a troubling 30% in 2021-22. The reasons behind such high rates of absenteeism vary from district to district and individual to individual, but experts concur that the problem worsens when children’s basic needs are neglected.

“It is vital that children arrive prepared and physically ready to learn in the classroom. Meeting their basic requirements is crucial for an effective learning environment,” mentioned Boissiere.

National data included in the analysis highlighted the link between absences and academic achievement. The report pointed out that students with more absences tended to have lower reading proficiency rates.

For instance, in 2022, the percentage of fourth-grade students nationwide who demonstrated proficiency in reading was 40% with zero absences prior to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), decreasing to 34% with one to two absent days, 28% with three to four absences, 25% with five to 10 absences, and plummeting to 14% for students with over 10 absences in the month leading up to the NAEP.

Furthermore, the authors emphasized the significant influence of racial inequalities on various aspects of the report’s measures.

“Due to persistent inequities and discriminatory practices spanning generations, children of color face formidable barriers across many indicators,” noted the authors.

The data highlighted concerning increases in child and teen mortality rates among Black children on a national scale, and the disproportionate lack of health insurance coverage among American Indian or Alaska Native children.

By dissecting the racial demographic data, the authors uncovered substantial disparities.

For instance, Asian and Pacific Islander children exhibited one of the lowest poverty rates nationally at 11%, in contrast to 29% for Burmese children, 24% for Mongolian children, and 23% for Thai children. The national average for child poverty stands at 16%, emphasizing the stark realities faced by many Asian children throughout the country.

Despite these disparities, there were instances where children of color outperformed the national averages. For example, Black children showed higher rates of school attendance at ages 3 and 4, were more likely to be insured, and had a household head with a high school diploma. Latino children and teens displayed lower mortality rates and were less likely to have low birth weights.

“With children of color becoming the majority in many states and territories, their success is crucial for the prosperity of our nation,” concluded the authors.

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