While Orange County children have had overall improvements in areas like infant health and college readiness, the county has seen worsening rates of children living in unstable housing and kids hospitalized with mental health crises, according to the county’s new annual report on the conditions of children.
Hospitalization rates of children for serious mental illnesses skyrocketed by 76% from 2009 to 2018, the report found, continuing a years-long trend also highlighted in last year’s report.
This comes against a backdrop of more and more children living in poverty in Orange County, with nearly 30,000 K-12 students living in insecure housing most recent year in the report, the school year that ended in 2019.
That’s a 55 percent increase over the prior decade in the rate of local students living in insecure housing.
“Disparities persist in Orange County among races and ethnicities, socioeconomic status and geographic communities, depending on the indicator,” the report states, noting a 12 percent increase in childhood poverty from 2010 to 2018.
“Some communities face greater economic hardship than others, as poverty among children increases and nearly 30,000 students experience insecure housing. Low income students are nearly three times less likely than their peers to exceed the third-grade mathematics and English language standards than their peers, with some communities experiencing this disparity more so than others.”
The report was compiled from official data by county officials, nonprofit groups and university researchers. The most recent data in the report is from before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, which the report says is due to normal delays in data reporting and collection.
Children in foster care continue to face educational challenges, the report notes, with the highest rates among K-12 students both for missing school and dropping out altogether.
Over 26,000 of local K-12 students were living double or tripled up with other families, about 1,400 were living in shelters, and another were 1,380 living in motels or hotels, according to the report.
“The high mobility, trauma and poverty associated with homelessness and insecure housing create educational barriers, low school attendance, developmental, physical and emotional problems for students,” the report states.
“Lacking a fixed, regular nighttime stay increases the chances that a student will require additional support services associated with their developmental and academic success,” it continued.
“A homeless student or one living in a crowded environment may experience a greater tendency for stress and anxiety not knowing where they are going to sleep each night nor having a consistent, quiet, permanent place to study or do their homework.”
Students living in insecure housing are disproportionately in and around Santa Ana and Anaheim, according to the report.
As the report came up for public discussion last week, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, who chaired the panel that oversaw the report, focused on the report’s positive trends.
“I want to cite a few statistics that should give us some encouragement. Teen birth rates continue to drop to the lowest level in 10 years. More women in Orange County have received early prenatal care. And more than half of our third graders are now meeting or exceeding statewide achievement standards for English, language arts and mathematics,” he continued.
“So these are all good signs that our county is on a good footing. Obviously we will have to monitor the situation very closely post-Covid.”
County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett emphasized that local children are being hospitalized for mental crises at increasing rates, as of the latest data in the report that runs through 2018.
“When we see a trend forming, we have to get on top of it and kind of nip it in the bud. So I know that our Health Care Agency – and I can see nods in the audience – that we are looking at the report,” Bartlett said, noting the county’s involvement in opening a new mental health services campus, called Be Well OC, that’s scheduled to open early next year.
“We’ll be making the appropriate adjustments in our programs to take into account the different trends in health care, mental health, substance abuse and other things that we see, particularly in the children, so that we kind of nip it early on in the childhood years, so that they become healthy adults,” Bartlett said of the conditions of children report.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.