Orange County supervisors Tuesday acknowledged they need to get more involved in improving conditions for children across the region, after receiving a new report that shows drops in child care spaces and school spending and more children living in poverty countywide.
Supervisors must know “how our votes and our distribution of resources impact these kinds of things,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer said of the 19th Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County.
The annual report was presented to the Board of Supervisors at their weekly public meeting Tuesday.
“I’d like to see it not just be something that people put on our shelves, but becomes a living document that we’re utilizing” to make policy changes, said Spitzer.
Supervisor Janet Nguyen agreed, pointing to efforts like vaccination events and a jump in Medi-Cal health coverage as the types of preventative measures that end up saving lives and money.
“If we don’t give them those choices, they’re going to end up dying or costing us millions and millions” of dollars in hospital bills and other costs, said Nguyen.
How exactly supervisors plan to use the report to change policy isn’t yet clear, though Spitzer asked that county staff reports start explaining how proposed actions would impact conditions for children.
Mike Ryan, chief deputy director of the county’s Social Services Agency, noted that the Orange County Children’s Partnership is already discussing ways to push for policy changes.
The report’s “good news” includes: a 31-percent drop in infant mortalities from 2002 to 2011; a 21-percent drop in juvenile arrests from 2002 to 2011; and a 49-percent drop in the number of children who are known gang members.
Areas that “need improvement” include: a 34-percent drop in child care spaces at licensed homes; a 12-percent drop in school spending – to $7,800 per student – from 2008 to 2012; and a 3.6-percent drop in kindergarten children who are up-to-date on immunizations between 2003 and 2012.
Ryan attributed the drop in infant mortality to medical technology, economic well-being and the availability of fertility health services.
As for the drop in immunizations, a new state law is expected to help lower the number of families who opt-out of having their children vaccinated, said Eric Handler, the county’s health officer -- who made a rare appearance before the board of supervisors.
Regarding the drop in child care spaces, Ryan said it’s largely from a shift in state budgeting from licensed to unlicensed facilities.
He added that one of the problems is that those programs only operate when school is in session – meaning that during summer sessions or holidays those families don’t have that child care option for their children.
The report also notes a demographics shift, with a rising number of Latino children in Orange County.
In 2000, 51 percent of children were white and 31 percent were Latino. By 2010, 32 percent of children were white and 47 percent were Latino.
Overall, the county had 828,000 children as of the 2010 census.
The report also focused on the impact of military service on children, with growing attention to the issue as research confirms the stress and attachment problems that often arise.
It noted several groups tackling the issue locally: Orange County Veterans and Military Families Collaborative, Orange County Veterans Advisory Council, County Veterans Service Office, Veterans First Orange County and the Child Guidance Center.
“It’s nice to see the interest that’s taken place in how we can better support them,” said Ryan.
A series of open forums, where experts are available to answer questions, are set to be held across the county:
- Nov. 13: "Supporting Military Families" at the Delhi Center in Santa Ana
- Nov. 21: "Paving the Way to High School Graduation – Foster Youth Services" at Cal State Fullerton
- Dec. 3: "Impact of DUIs on Children and Families" at Northwood Community Center in Irvine
- Dec. 18: "Addressing Food Insecurity in Orange County" at the Costa Mesa Community Center.
- Jan. 10: "The Importance of Children's Vision" at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo
More information about the forums is available by calling the Orangewood Children’s Foundation at (714) 704-8777.