Children in Yolo County are more likely to be breastfed as newborns, enrolled in preschool as 3- and 4-year-olds and receive regular health care than children in other counties throughout the state, according to a new report.
But they are also less likely to see a dentist, to participate in free and reduced-price breakfast programs at school and to be read to every day.
All in all, the 50,000 children living in Yolo County were ranked in the top third on eight indicators of childhood well-being, the bottom third on eight more and in the middle on 12, according to “The California County Scorecard of Children’s Well-Being,” a report released last week by the advocacy group Children Now.
Using data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the state Department of Education, the California Health Interview Survey and the California Healthy Kids Survey, Children Now looked at 28 key indicators of childhood well-being, ranging from prenatal care to college readiness, healthcare to access to healthy food.
Counties were then ranked on each individual indicator. Perhaps not surprisingly, children in wealthier, urban counties scored significantly higher across the board than their counterparts in more rural and low-income areas, with Marin and Orange counties coming out on top. Even within counties, there were significant disparities along racial lines.
For Yolo, considered a middle-income urban county, children were generally in the middle of the pack. But there were several areas where they were found to be worse off than two years ago:
* The percentage of students who are ready or conditionally ready for college-level math courses was down 24 percent to 50 percent. The average among all counties was 58 percent.
* The number of eligible students who eat free or reduced-price breakfast during the school year dropped 7 percent to 23 percent, among the lowest in the state.
* The number of eligible students who eat free or reduced-price meals during the summer dropped 67 percent, down to just 11 percent of eligible Yolo County students.
The latter two figures have been ongoing concerns to many in the county and were among the issues discussed Friday at the Yolo Food Connect Summit held at UC Davis. Yolo Food Connect is a countywide collaborative effort aimed at dealing with hunger and food insecurity and Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said last week that increasing participation in school breakfast and lunch programs will be an ongoing focus of the group.
Others are already making headway locally. Realizing that many low-income children simply can’t get to school early enough to take advantage of the breakfast program, Montgomery Elementary School in Davis, for example, instituted a “second breakfast” program. Students who didn’t arrive in time for the first breakfast can still fill their stomachs during morning recess thanks to the second offering.
Montgomery has the highest percentage of children eligible for free and reduced-price breakfasts among Davis elementary schools — a percentage close to the county average, in fact.
According to First 5 Yolo, 50 percent of kindergartners in Yolo County are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and 15 percent are living in poverty. Hunger remains a significant factor in the lives of many of them.
For that reason, First 5 recently announced a new program that will provide up to 10,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables per month for families with children ages 0-5 in Winters, Esparto, Knights Landing, Yolo and Clarksburg.
The First 5 grant of $65,000 per year for three years will allow the Food Bank of Yolo County to distribute the food throughout the county.
The Food Bank also runs a program that involves setting up a weekly “kids farmers market” during school hours at some Yolo County elementary schools with large low-income student populations. Children are given pretend money to shop with and are able to take home up to 10 pounds of fresh produce each week.
Ongoing efforts by both First 5 and the Food Bank may be why Yolo County children are doing significantly better in one indicator of childhood well-being: access to fresh food. The number of children who live near grocery stores, produce stands or farmers markets was up 131 percent last year, to 77 percent overall. That is about average for counties throughout the state.
“Access to quality food and good nutrition is the number one priority for Spanish-speaking parents in Yolo County,” said First 5 Yolo’s executive director Julie Gallelo. “It was the number two concern for all 450 parents we surveyed.”
Also of concern to parents, she said, was the rate of obesity among their children. That, too, showed improvement in the 2012 scorecard, which found the number of children in Yolo County in a healthy weight zone had increased 17 percent to 71 percent overall, just above the statewide average of 69 percent.
In other good news on the Children Now scorecard, researchers found an increase in the number of Yolo County women receiving prenatal care — up 12 percent to 82 percent — and adolescents not at risk for depression — up 7 percent to 73 percent.
There are eight indicators total where Yolo County ranks among the top third of counties statewide:
* Newborns who are exclusively breastfed while in the hospital (80 percent compared to the statewide average of 57 percent).
* Children ages 0-3 who do not experience recurring neglect or abuse (98 percent compared to the statewide average of 93 percent).
* Three- and 4-year-olds who attend preschool (59 percent compared to the statewide average of 50 percent).
* Classrooms with high-speed Internet access (99 percent compared to the statewide average of 92 percent).
* Children who feel connected to their schools (48 percent compared to the statewide average of 44 percent).
* Expulsions that are limited to serious offenses (96 percent compared to the statewide average of 92 percent).
* Children who have a usual source of health care (94 percent compared to the statewide average of 92 percent).
Yolo County ranked in the middle of the pack on a number of education-related indicators, but showed improvement on most of them.
* The number of third-graders who read at grade level was up 19 percent to 43 percent overall.
* The number of seventh-graders who meet or exceed state standards on math was up 32 percent to 49 percent overall.
* The number of high school seniors who graduate on time was up 5 percent to 81 percent.
However, there was significant disparity among ethnic groups.
Just 25 percent of Latino third-graders in Yolo County read at grade level (compared to 58 percent of white third-graders); only 35 percent of Latino seventh-graders meet or exceed state standards in math (compared to 63 percent of white seventh-graders); and only 32 percent of Latinos are ready or conditionally ready for college-level math (compared to 58 percent of white students).
In another education-related measure of well-being, the report found 39 percent of Latino students felt connected to their schools, compared to 58 percent of white students.
The ongoing racial disparities, as well as those between urban and rural counties, are telling, said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now.
“The scorecard’s holistic, county-by-county view of children’s well-being is unique and critical,” he said. “It highlights where California’s policymakers need to do a better job of crafting solutions that meet all kids’ needs, whether they live in a low-income rural county or urban center, are African American or Latino. Our public policies should work equally well for all children, but this shows they are not.”
In fact, he noted, even in wealthy Marin County, where an average of 73 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds attend preschool, the racial disparity is significant: 90 percent of white children attend preschool, compared to 32 percent of Latino children.
And while Yolo County is in the top third of the state when it comes to sending children to preschool, there are eight indicators of childhood well-being that put Yolo in the bottom third:
* The percentage of young children who are read to every day (66 percent).
* Elementary and middle-school children who are supervised by an adult after school (48 percent).
* Students who are ready or conditionally ready for college level math (50 percent).
* High school science classes that are taught by a “highly qualified teacher” (89 percent).
* Suspensions that are limited to serious offenses (49 percent).
* Eligible students who eat free or reduced-price breakfasts during the school year (23 percent).
* Schools that have a health center (none).
* Children who visited a dentist in the last year (86 percent).
The entire scorecard is available to the public online by visiting http://scorecard.childrennow.org/2012.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy