Fermin Leal / EdSource Today
Aimee Perez, left, dresses as a doctor as she gives a check-up to Chelsea Conway during their preschool class at Land School in Westminster, Calif.

California earned poor marks for several services it provides for the well-being of children, including those dealing with trauma, abuse and other mental and behavioral challenges, according to a report issued Wednesday by the advocacy organization Children Now.

The 2016 “California Children’s Report Card” also gave low marks to state services for infant and toddler care, teacher training and evaluation, obesity prevention and nutrition, and foster youth education. The state got highest marks for providing health coverage to children under the Affordable Care Act, as well as relatively high ones in other areas such as linking the high school curriculum to career pathways, introducing Common Core academic standards and Next Generation Science Standards, after-school and summer learning, and targeting state funds at children with the highest needs.

The report card, released annually for more than two decades, issued letter grades (A through F) for how the state is doing in 31 key education, health and child welfare areas that are aimed at the neediest student populations. The goal is to encourage state lawmakers and educators to increase investments in these areas.

The grades are not based on any standardized assessments, but reflect the views of the organization based on its interpretation of data and reports from a wide range of sources.

“California is a wealthy state, with more assets than most to devote to its children’s well-being,” the report said. “It’s time to put more of our resources to work for kids, by investing in quality programs to help lift them out of poverty and set them on the road to success.”

Nearly half of the state’s 9 million children come from poor or low-income families. Yet many don’t have comprehensive access to services that can lead to an improved quality of life, the report charged.

Children Now President Ted Lempert said the one of the report card’s most troubling findings shows the state continues to do little to promote healing for the more than 1 million children experiencing trauma, a category that earned a D- grade. Research has shown that children suffering from abuse, neglect and those witnessing violence at home can experience serious long-term consequences, including health problems like diabetes and mental health challenges like depression, he said.

“Trauma can impede emotional well-being, impact school performance and set kids up for a lifetime of health problems,” Lempert said in a news release. “California must do more to assess children for trauma and find them the help they need to heal.”

The highest grade Children Now awarded was an A minus for health insurance coverage of children, largely as a result of the state’s positive response to the federal Affordable Care Act, which has caused the rate of insured children to climb to 95 percent statewide.

Here is a sampling of the grades it awarded in eight of the 31 areas the report examined:

  • Infant and toddler care, grade D:  Children Now noted that “California is taking small but important steps toward improving access and ensuring affordable, quality care for the families that need it most,” but families of infants and toddlers are least likely to receive help to pay for childcare, and the quality of care can vary widely.  The report says the majority of the over 300,000 infants and children who meet eligibility requirements still don’t have access  to subsidized care.
  • Preschool, grade B-:  After years of budget cuts to preschool services, the report praises the state making “significant new investments in preschool access, affordability and quality.  But it notes that California still does not provide universal preschool, and access and cost sets up barriers to preschool for many children.
  • K-12 funding, grade C-California has increased public school spending in recent years ( by $3,000 per child since just four years ago, according to one EdSource report). But it continues to lag behind in national comparisons of per pupil spending, with the state spending an average of $10,120 annually compared to the $17,777 average spent annually by the top ten spending states.
  • Academic standards, grade B-The state gets high marks for moving aggressively the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.  But the report says it should be doing more to fully implement these standards, and also update standards for other subject areas.
  • Teacher training and evaluation, grade D:  Taking on one of the most controversial issues in the state, the Children Now report asserts that “most districts fail to provide teachers with the feedback they need to improve” and that “many districts don’t include measures of student achievement in evaluations of teachers.”
  • Oral health, grade D+While 55 percent of California children are enrolled in Medi-Cal, the report says fewer than half have received any dental services during the previous year. Each year, there are more than 25,000 children’s dental-related emergency room visits.
  • Obesity prevention and nutrition, grade C-Each year, about 3.4 million school children are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals, but 1.1 million do not receive those meals.  The report says that “California has taken steps to help give children access to drinking water and healthier food at school. But much more must be done, including reducing the consumption of sugary beverages and increasing access to nutritious meals and snacks during the summer and in after school programs.”
  • Foster youth education, grade D+: Under the Local Control Funding Formula, schools now receive extra funds to serve foster youth, and a recent state law requires that they receive additional educational assistance and supports. But about one in three foster youths miss at least a month of school every year, and the report concludes that too few of them “are getting the education they need to succeed in life.”

The report noted that several groups and agencies statewide have launched initiatives to target many of these issues. Also, the improved economy has allowed the state to target additional dollars to fill in some of the gaps in services noted in the report. Still, the state’s policy makers need to do much more to ensure more children students from high need backgrounds succeed, Lempert said. “State investment in these critical areas will save money in the long term,” he said.

The report also includes a “scorecard” for each of the state’s 58 counties on more than two dozen indicators of a child’s health and well-being.

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