A report found no noticeable improvement in the health and education status of children in California, and warns that it doesn't bode well for the state's future.
Children Now, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for children, releases its California Report Card 2008 today as lawmakers prepare to deal with a $10 billion state budget shortfall that will require cuts to spending.
The organization is concerned that children often are neglected when the state government tightens its purse strings.
"Although we are thrilled to hear frequent pronouncements that all children should have access to health insurance, we don't have legislation signed or money committed to pay for those policy changes," said Corey Newhouse, a senior policy associate for Children Now and lead author of the report.
The Legislature should maintain its commitment to education funding and proceed with a November 2008 ballot initiative to expand access to health insurance, the report recommends. About 763,000 children in the state do not have health coverage; almost a million don't have regular access to a doctor, the report says.
The report is based on the most recent data on the state's 9.5 million children, gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau, state agencies, research centers and professional journals.
Over a four-year period, the researchers noted a drop in the percentage of children who had health coverage through their parents' workplace, from 55 percent to 50 percent. As a result, more children are relying on government health programs such as Medi-Cal or Healthy Families.
D+ for obesity
The report assigns letter grades to factors that influence the general well-being of California's children. The state got a "C" for the number of children with health insurance, a "C-" for kindergarten through 12th-grade education and a "D+" for childhood obesity.
According to the report, the health and education issues are undermining the development of children and could lead to widespread societal problems in the future. The report highlights other problems:
Only 65 percent of young people graduate from high school on time.
One in three children is overweight or obese.
Thirty-seven percent of children ages 2 to 5 did not visit a dentist in the past year.
The study also looks at the financial strain on parents who are trying to raise children in one of the most costly states in the nation. Working parents raising two children must earn a combined $72,300 a year to pay for housing, child care, food, health insurance and transportation. Fewer than half of California families can afford those essentials.
Children Now acknowledged that students in California have improved their scores on achievement tests in recent years. But at the current rate, it would take 30 years before all children achieve the goals.
Newhouse, the report's lead author, said the issues need to be addressed if the state is to remain an economic leader.
"In the long term, this can have a profound effect on California's vibrant economy," she said. "If our next generation is poorly educated and plagued by health problems, we are going to have a problem building a strong work force and taking care of members of our society that need care."
John Sims, executive director of the Stanislaus Children and Families Commission, said the agency is trying to improve the health status of Stanislaus County's children. He said children not covered by private insurance have trouble getting medical care, and the options for dental care are limited.
The commission oversees a program to give direct medical services to children from birth to 5 years old and to pregnant women. In 2006-07, it provided for 6,100 medical office visits and assisted in moving almost 1,500 program participants into government health programs or a Kaiser Permanente plan for children.
The commission, which administers tobacco tax funding, has a strategic plan focused on improving health, child development and family functioning.
"It is hard to improve child development or how the family is functioning unless you are healthy," Sims said. "That is the rock on which everything else is built."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.