Valley fails at many scores for childhood well-being, including a lack of day care

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Kaiser Permanente's Educational Theatre program uses music, dance and audience interaction to guide children toward better lifestyle choices. The troupe was at Del Mar Elementary School in central Fresno teaching students in kindergarten through s
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Kaiser Permanente's Educational Theatre program uses music, dance and audience interaction to guide children toward better lifestyle choices. The troupe was at Del Mar Elementary School in central Fresno teaching students in kindergarten through s

Children in the central San Joaquin Valley are more likely to go to bed hungry and not be in licensed day care than many children in California, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report by Children Now found some indicators of childhood well-being in the Valley to be better than statewide, but many were worse and not enough children in the state are receiving services they need to be healthy, safe and to thrive.

“There’s definitely, across California and in the Valley, there’s a lack of investment in the early years that continues to show up and widen later,” said Kelly Hardy, senior managing director of health and research for California Now.

For example, 77 percent of children of working parents in the state are not in licensed day care, and the rate is even higher in the Valley. In Fresno County, 82 percent of children are not in licensed child care. And in Kings County, 89 percent of children are not in licensed facilities, according to the report.

“For our kids and our communities, services like quality child care help reduce inequities in education, health and social outcomes,” said Children Now president Ted Lempert.

The Children Now scorecard provides a snapshot of how children are faring in the state, over time and by race and ethnicity. The report ranks counties in the categories of education, child welfare, health and early childhood. Children Now is a nonpartisan organization that advocates and promotes children’s health and education in the state.

Next meal too often in question

The Valley has some of the most dismal scores in the 2018-19 California County Scorecard of Children’s Well-Being. For example, children in the Valley are less likely to be food secure than children in other regions of the state. Tulare County ranked 57th out of 58 counties for food security. In California, 81 percent of children are food secure, but in Tulare County only 73 percent have food security. Fresno and Merced counties ranked 54th with 74 percent of children food secure. Kings and Madera counties ranked 44th with 76 percent of children having food security.

Food insecurity and obesity often go hand-in-hand, and Valley counties have more seventh-graders who are overweight or obese compared to the state average. In California, 61 percent of students are at a healthy weight (not overweight or obese). In Kings County, only 52 percent of the students were at a healthy weight and the county ranked 56th. In Fresno County, 56 percent of students were fit, and the county ranked 48th.

But seventh-graders in Madera County are trim. Sixty-seven percent of the students are at a healthy weight, ranking the county 16th out of 58 counties.

For about a decade, the medical community, school districts, public agencies and the Madera County Department of Public Health have collaborated to address obesity and diabetes in the county, said MaryAnne Seay, director of parks and community services for the city of Madera. Grants from Kaiser Permanente Fresno also helped the city to offer more health and fitness programs.“Maybe the size of Madera County allows for a more collective approach,” Seay said.

Fresno County high in prenatal care

The Valley has other scores that are among the top in the state, including Fresno County ranking fourth for pregnant women receiving prenatal care beginning in the first trimester. Reducing the number of babies born too early has been a priority of the county, which is participating in a 10-year premature birth initiative.

Merced County ranked third in the state for dental care with 48 percent of its children having seen a dentist. But other Valley counties had lower scores. Only 22 percent of young children in Fresno County had visited a dentist. Statewide the average is 26 percent. In Tulare County, 25 percent of children had seen a dentist; 24 percent in Kings and 29 percent in Madera County.

Children Now said education achievement varied statewide and within regions. For example, students who were ready or conditionally ready for college-level math courses ranged from 18 percent in Kings County to 26 percent in Fresno County. And racial disparities were significant. In Fresno County, just 11 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students, compared to 44 percent of white students and 45 percent of Asian students were ready for college math. “I am significantly troubled by the academic outcomes,” Hardy said.

Most children have health insurance under California’s expansion of Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act, and Children Now said keeping health access available should be a priority in light of proposed federal immigration policies that could affect access to care.

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter