By Cornelia de Bruin
Triplicate staff writer
Children's health issues in Del Norte County mirror in many ways the less than flattering results of Children Now's California Report Card released earlier this month, local officials say.
Lack of more comfortable parental income, lack of nutrition education for their parents and lack of treatment facilities for families that are in crisis are some of the issues that affect children here.
The youngest population is part of the largest block of children living in the nation. Twenty-seven percent of California's residents are children, and that population comprises 13 percent of the all children in the country.
Children Now, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization, says in its California Report Card that "significant" children's policy changes must be made in health care and education or current and future generations will be "far worse off" than previous ones.
The young population will "pay costs, directly and indirectly, for many years to come," the report states.
The report gives letter grades to various issues. California received a D+ for obesity and for family well-being, a C- for dental health, early care and education and for K-12 Education. After school programs received a B+.
Del Norte County's per capita income of $17,856, according to the state's County Fact Book 2003, compares to the state per capita income of $32,149.
Given the nearly 1:2 ratio between the two, Gary Blatnick, director of Del Norte County's Public Health and Social Services departments, thinks some of the statewide figures would accurately translate locally.
"I would say we fit into it's descriptions," he said. "It is very accurate and very consistent."
In the Children Now report:
As many as 30 percent of California's children live in an economically-struggling family that can pay on for the most basic needs.
About 760,000 California children ages 0-18 don't have health insurance.
One in three of the 6-17 year-old group is obese or overweight.
In Del Norte County, children from low-income families can receive same-day treatment when they're ill from Del Norte Community Health Center. They also can be seen at Sutter Coast Hospital and Sutter's Urgent Care facility on Washington Street.
Community Health Center Site Administrator Charlaine Mazzei agrees that obesity among the young is "a health care issue here, a problem," but she didn't estimate what percentage of the young population is affected.
Another problem she highlighted is parents' access to information that could help their families.
"They need better nutritional education, it would be a benefit," said Mazzei.
Regarding dental care, she said her providers see "many" cases of bottle tooth rot in young children.
Badly infected teeth are the result of bottles left in the cribs of young children.
"Many kids need dental surgery," she said. "We see some very young kids, 5-6 years old, who are needing surgery."
Fighting the incidence of baby bottle tooth rot with better information to parents of the young is one of her clinic's goals, said Mazzei.
Another goal is to get health insurance for all the young children in Del Norte County.
Mazzei is part of the Children's Health Initiative Coalition, which has targeted helping uninsured children as an organizational goal.
"We also have a need for more mental health access, and access for those with drug and alcohol abuse problems," she said. "We probably have some kids who are impacted by it."
The report card also addressed school performance. It noted that about 60 percent of 2nd-11th graders did not meet state goals for math and reading proficiency in 2006.
"Students with a higher poverty level score lower on achievement tests," said Don Olson, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.
While Del Norte County ranks ninth-lowest for income in California, students' test scores ran counter its ranking.
"We are 5 percent below average in scores for language arts, and 1 percent below the state average in math scores," Olson said. "Given our ranking, they are performing better than might be expected."
The school system is "working with that" in making sure that state-adopted curriculum is in the classrooms and is being used as it should, he said.
"We are making progress on our organizational skills," he said.
By next week, after-school kindergarten programs will be offered at all elementary school sites.
After-school programs are offered to older students at four of the district's sites. those programs offer students scholastic help as well as recreational skills, art and PE.
For students in first through eighth grades, the programs are popular and well-attended, Olson said.
"Some funding is coming out of our own pocket," he said. "Next year funding will become available for high school students and we want to begin a program here."
Childcare in Del Norte County is also a "great need," said Nicole Travis, school readiness coordinator for Del Norte First Five.
While opportunities for childcare exist for parents, in a poor county the sticking point is affordability.
"There is a huge gap for the middle income people," Travis said. "They don't qualify for low income, but they can't pay the rates."
Unless children's issues are addressed now, Californians will pay higher costs for remedial health services and have to deal with the lack of a well-educated workforce in the years ahead, said Children Now President Ted Lempert.
And the report card says ...
Health Insurance: B-
Dental Health: C-
Infant and Young Children's Health (Birth through Age 12): B-
Adolescent Children's: B-
Early Care and Education: C-
K-12 Education: C-
After School: B+
Family Well-Being: D+
SOURCE: Children Now