‘Cruel’ prospects for California children’s well-being, the report shows

Jessica Christian / San Francisco Chronicle / Polaris

Covid, forest fires, economic insecurity and persistent racial injustice have changed almost every aspect of children’s lives in California, according to one of the first comprehensive studies of young people’s general well-being since the pandemic began.

The 2022 Children Now Report Card, published Wednesday by the Oakland-based research and advocacy company, provides an insight into the struggles – and victories – children have experienced as the pandemic nears the end of its second year. Education, childcare, physical and mental health, homelessness, poverty, youth justice and food security are among the topics examined in the report, which issues A-to-F letter grades based on data and state policies.

“For years, politicians have been saying, ‘Of course, children are a priority,’ but what we do know is that it’s not enough,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, which has compiled the annual surveys. since 1990. “The situation is particularly bleak due to the pandemic, and children must be our No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 top priorities. Not ensuring that our children are healthy and educated will have a huge impact on our economy and our democracy. … It is possible. We just have to do it. “

Of particular concern is the difference in learning losses during last year’s school closures. Using data from Policy Analysis for California Education, the report shows that English students, low-income students, American Indians, blacks and Latino students lost far more ground academically in mathematics and English-language art than their white and Asian peers.

American Indian students and English students, for example, had lost nearly four months of learning compared to just over a week for Asian students. The data are based on third- to eighth-grade scores on intermediate assessments given in the autumn of 2020 compared with the previous year.

The reason for the inequality is uneven quality in distance education programs, limited access to technology and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on low-income families, according to the report.

Another notable statistic is the increase in suicides among black youth. According to the report, the suicide rate among black 10-24 year olds has more than doubled since 2014, while the frequency among other groups has remained stable or decreased. By 2020, 12 out of every 100,000 black youth would die by suicide, compared to a national average for all racial groups of just over 6 out of every 100,000 youth.

While disturbing, the numbers are not a shock, said Lisa Andrews, a director of the California College Guidance Initiative and a consulting professor at the University of La Verne. The spotlight on racial injustice as well as continued violence against blacks has contributed to ongoing trauma among black youth, she said. A cultural stigma associated with mental illness and the lack of black counselors has meanwhile prevented too many young blacks from seeking help, she added.

Schools and other organizations can do a better job of tackling mental challenges among black youth, she said.

“Teachers can say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and just spend a few minutes talking about life, “Andrews said.” If students know someone is worried, someone is worried, it can make a big difference. “

The expansion of the transition kindergarten was a bright spot in the report. California received an A- for its investment in transition kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, but it needs to do more to ensure all children have access to preschool education, the report said. Transitional kindergarten classes should have less student-to-teacher ratios and better trained teachers, and an affordable preschool should be available for every 3-year-old.

Another bright spot was health insurance. California “has made remarkable progress toward ensuring health coverage for all children” by expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented children and adolescents ages 19 to 25, the report said.

But even with health insurance, too many children do not receive basic medical care, the report said. In some cases, the premiums are still too high for parents to afford, or families do not know what services they are entitled to, or health care providers do not offer services on time. The report gave California a D- for its health oversight and accountability.

This is a particular concern during the pandemic, according to the report.

Increased student engagement was a reason for optimism. Several students signed up to vote – and voted when they became eligible – after California allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register last year and took the lead in national movements focusing on social justice, climate change and other issues. Nearly half of California’s 18- to 24-year-olds voted in 2020, above the national average and up from 37% in 2012.

“Once young people are engaged and empowered, they can be integrated partners in shaping the policies that affect their lives,” the report said.

But overall, California needs to do much more to support young people, especially in terms of their mental health, Lempert said. He noted that California lags behind most other states in terms of the number of adults on school campuses, including teachers, counselors, counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists. While the state has increased funding for schools for years, it has not been enough to keep up with students’ needs, he said.

“We’re been sounding the alarm about this for a while,” he said. “This is unacceptable. And the result is incredibly harmful to children. We are lagging behind other states in so many areas, and there is no excuse for that.”

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