Introducing the 2020 California Children’s Report Card

A survey of kids’ well-being and roadmap for the future

By Ted Lempert

January 28, 2020

Today, I am excited to announce the launch of the 2020 California Children’s Report Card, the latest edition of the state’s most comprehensive report on children’s health, education and well-being. This year’s Report Card grades California on 31 key children’s issues – and includes new sections on Family Supports, Adolescents & Transition Age Youth and Connected Cradle-to-Career. It also shines a spotlight on the impact racism, poverty and immigration threats have on our kids.

The report shows that California can make great strides in children’s well-being when state policymakers truly prioritize kids. Children’s health insurance, for example, received an A grade due to the state’s leadership in not only aggressively implementing the Affordable Care Act but also extending coverage to children who are undocumented. California received a B in School Climate: Discipline and Attendance due in part to its banning of suspensions for the vague and broad category of “defiance or disruption” which disproportionately impacted students of color.

In far too many areas, however, California received low marks representing how the state has failed to prioritize kids in policymaking and funding decisions, including behavioral health care (D), child care (D+), and caring professionals in schools (F). While the state is a leader in so many areas, like protecting vulnerable communities from harmful federal policies, ensuring equal rights for all Californians and staying firm on environmental standards, on too many issues affecting kids we rank near the bottom of the country.

While it’s disheartening to see so many low grades, the higher marks demonstrate California’s ability to dramatically improve outcomes for kids when it becomes the priority. This year’s Report Card is a call to action for policymakers to start making those changes now. Children’s issues are complex – each child has their own unique set of needs – but this cannot be an excuse for insufficient action. As a state, California has a real opportunity now to be a leader, and ensure every child, especially those who are most vulnerable, has access to the full range of quality supports and services needed to grow up healthy and succeed. Let’s take advantage of this critical moment and strong public support to enact Pro-Kid policies and improve children’s well-being in California.

How did the state do? Grades range from an A in Health Insurance to Ds for Health Care Accountability, Preventive Screenings and Behavioral Health Care.

Bright Spots: California has made great strides in improving children’s health, most notably in increasing the percentage of children with health coverage to 97 percent.

Areas for Improvement: The state must continue its work to promote access and quality care with an emphasis on prevention, early detection and intervention, and disease management so all kids can grow up healthy and thrive.

How did the state do? Education grades are less than stellar, with Bs in Preschool and Transitional kindergarten and School Climate: Discipline and Attendance, and an F for School Climate: Caring Professionals at School.

Bright Spots: California continues to make modest progress – including increased investments in the State Preschool Program and banning K-8 suspensions for ‘defiance and disruption’ – to improve education outcomes for kids.

Areas for Improvement: California schools have fewer educators, counselors, nurses, support staff, and administrators than almost any other state in the country — and the professionals on campus do not reflect the diversity of the students served. California ranks 50th in the country in teacher-to-student ratios. On the whole, state leaders must address the entire education continuum, from child care through higher education, to ensure California’s children are prepared for the future.

Family Supports
How did the state do? With B-s in both Paid Family Leave and Income Assistance for Low-Income Families, and a C- in Voluntary, Evidence-Based Home Visiting, the state must do better.

Bright Spots: California has taken positive steps to make paid family leave affordable and accessible to all families, and the pledge of increasing paid leave from eight weeks to three months by 2022 is promising.

Areas for Improvement: Despite research proving the benefits of voluntary home visiting programs, home visiting is not reaching enough California families. As many as two-thirds of California families with babies and toddlers could benefit from home visiting, yet current programs reach fewer than 2 percent of families. The state must increase access to policies and programs that provide essential support to all parents and caregivers who need it.

Child Welfare
How did the state do? With a C- average, California is not doing its best for the thousands of children and youth in the foster care system.

Bright Spots: The state established the Family Urgent Response System last year, a 24/7 hotline and network of county mobile response teams that can provide immediate trauma-informed support to children, youth and caregivers during moments of crisis.

Areas for Improvement: California leaders must ensure children and youth in foster care and their caregivers have access to all the resources, supports, and services they need to build and maintain strong family relationships. This includes increasing placement stability and access to health care, as well as providing greater education supports for students in foster care.

Adolescents and Transition Age Youth
How did the state do? Grades range from C-s in Relationships and Sexual Health Education, and opportunities for youth voice and civic engagement, to D+s in supports for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth and Decriminalization of Youth.

Bright Spots: The state has seen an 86 percent reduction in youth arrest rates from 1986 to 2018, but there is a lot of work to be done to improve outcomes for adolescents and transition age youth.

Areas for Improvement: California leaders need to ensure that: youth receive proactive education about healthy relationships and sexual health; no young person is homeless or forced to live in unsafe conditions; a supportive environment exists for youth in the juvenile justice system; and diverse opportunities for civic engagement are made available to all youth to increase voter participation.

Connected Cradle-to-Career Systems
How did the state do? California earned a D.

Bright Spots: While there is a strong planning process underway, there are no bright spots to highlight at this point.

Areas for Improvement: California has no meaningful longitudinal education data system from early ed through higher ed, and it also lacks many of the informational systems that parents/caregivers need to better understand how their kids are doing and to access needed services. Policymakers must ensure that all government-run systems focused on kids are linked, in order to increase coordination and support to children and their families.