Introducing the 2021 California County Scorecard of Children’s Well-Being

Kids aren’t faring too well in the Golden State

By Kelly Hardy

January 26, 2021

Today, Children Now released the 2021 California County Scorecard of Children’s Well-Being. An interactive tool, the Scorecard delivers data on how kids are doing in each of California’s 58 counties, and tracks 39 key indicators of children’s well-being – over time, by race/ethnicity and relative to other counties – from prenatal to the transition to adulthood.

According to this year’s Scorecard, the current outlook is not promising. Kids are counting on us to improve outcomes and build them a brighter future. This is more critical than ever before as California kids are really struggling – they are increasingly experiencing stress, social isolation, disconnectedness and serious mental health issues. And the learning loss and lack of preventive health care because of the pandemic threatens this entire generation.

We may not want to admit it, but as a state, we are failing our kids. The data paint a sobering picture:

  • Growing up in poverty: In California, 42% of kids are living at or below twice the federal poverty level, or an annual household income of $53,000 for a family of four.
    • Data from the Census Household Pulse Survey show that households with kids are struggling to pay bills during the pandemic, even more than households without kids.
  • Missed well-child visits: On average, only 41% of California children with Medi-Cal received an annual preventive check-up in 2018.
    • Well-child visits dropped even further during the pandemic, which is troubling as these check-ups can catch and address medical issues before they become chronic and/or more difficult to treat.
  • Chronic sadness: More than a third (35%) of high school students reported feeling chronic sad or hopeless feelings over the past 12 months in 2019.
    • Amid this multitude of crises – racial injustices, the ongoing pandemic and long-standing inequities – the well-being and resilience of students and their families are more important than ever.

While much work remains to improve outcomes across all indicators for all California kids, the Scorecard did reveal a few bright spots:

  • Youth voice and power: Sixty percent of eligible California youth (ages 18-25) registered to vote in the 2020 General Election, up from 52% in the 2016 election.
  • Education: Suspensions and expulsions not due to “defiance/disruption” have improved to an 86% statewide average in 2019, up from a 76% statewide average in 2016.
  • Health insurance: Ninety six percent of California kids have health insurance coverage.

The State’s focus, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been largely on adults, and not on kids. But kids were faring poorly long before the public health emergency was declared, as indicated by the Scorecard, and we are deeply concerned about what the pandemic data will show. Initial research indicates that the situation has worsened for millions of children and families.

This is a difficult time, but it’s also an opportunity for leadership and change. I’m hopeful that we can create a better future for our kids. As advocates, we work tirelessly to give kids a voice and build power for them in policymaking. But we can’t do it alone. State leaders must commit to truly prioritizing California kids by supporting Pro-Kid policies, increasing investments in child-serving programs and public education, and ending systemic injustices that create barriers to kids of color, as well as kids living in poverty and undocumented kids, from growing up healthy and ready for college, career, and civic life.


Editor’s note: if you’d like to learn more about the Scorecard, and how to use it in your community, we invite you to join this free webinar on February 3.