The number of children in Santa Barbara County who qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches — 54 percent — and those who live below the federal poverty level, were the highest of the decade in 2010, according to a recent report on children’s welfare.
“The data shows what we know, that there’s great economic concern for families in our county, and that’s increasing,” said Joy Thomas, outreach and education specialist for KIDS Network, which produced the 2010 Children’s Scorecard along with the UCSB Gevirtz Graduate School of Education and a variety of public agencies and community-based organizations.
Thomas said many of the numbers are due to the general state of the economy, but some are prolonged, significant issues, such as the achievement gap in student test scores.
“When you break the scores down by income and ethnicity, you see gaps that don’t improve over time,” she said, adding that the report provides a “jumping off point for solutions.”
The report was first published in 1994, and presents data relating to population and income, childcare and preschools, education, physical health, mental health, youth risk behaviors, welfare and safety, and juvenile justice and law.
It is designed to measure how the county’s children stack up against state and national averages.
Pat Wheatley, executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County, the local arm of a state organization that was created in 1998 to invest tobacco-tax revenues in children’s programs, said the report is critical in making sure that the services they fund address those key needs.
For example, she said, First 5 is a primary sponsor of the Children’s Health Initiative, which provides health insurance for children who wouldn’t qualify for it otherwise.
Data in the report helped First 5 focus its energies on the issue, and as a result, Wheatley said, the number of uninsured children in the county has dropped from an estimated 22,000 in 2001 to 1,500 in 2009.
The report shows that of the county’s Medi-cal enrollees in 2010, 53 percent were in North County — there was no breakdown for children — while South County and Mid-County had 29 percent and 18 percent respectively.
One of the strengths of the report, said Wheatley, is that the data is a compilation from sources ranging from school districts to the public health department, and is developed on the federal, state and local level.
“This pulls those data sets together so we have a picture of the health and welfare of children in our county,” she said.
In addition to increasing levels of child poverty, and a drop in the number children without health insurance, the report shows:
n The rates for juvenile felony and violent offenses increased overall since 2000, but dropped in 2010. Most of the offenses did not involve weapons and were committed by youths 14 and older.
n Child abuse and neglect cases were down from peaks in 2006-07, and were below the statewide rate per
1,000 children. Children under age 1 were consistently most at-risk, while neglect remained the most frequent type of abuse for all ages.
n That there’s a growing need fore more child care. According to estimated licensed child care availability for children ages 0-12, there were two children in need of care for every space available in the county in 2009, and there was a critical shortage of infant-toddler care.
When it came to school connectedness, however, more students than in the past reported feeling connected to their school. Additionally, over half reported having an adult outside of home and school with whom they have a caring relationship and who had high expectations for them.
The county is still trying to meet federal goals for birth weight, which are not being met by most California counties, according to the report.
While the overall number of infants born at low birth weights is small, 372 babies of the 6,039 births in the county in 2009, they are much more likely to have health problems and account for a significant amount of all money spent on infant health care, the report states.
And, the percentage of youth considered “fit” increased slightly since 2001, but held steady from 2006 to 2010.
To see the complete Children’s Scorecard, go to www.countyofsb.org/