Thursday, April 16, 2009
A dismal report card on Kern County's children: so is it really "Life as it should be?"
With all due respect to my friends over at Vision 2020, sometimes it's hard to look at the statistics and believe in Bakersfield's unofficial motto: "Life as it should be." That said I do recognize this is a message of aspiration if not reality, and I am all for putting our best foot forward when we promote all that is good with our community. And certainly if your view is from Grand Island in Seven Oaks or Old Stockdale, it would be hard to argue that this is as good as it gets. But we all know the stark reality of our community, and it hit home as I reviewed the 2009 Report Card from the Kern County Network for Children. This is the real work of Vision 2020, beyond slogans and bumper stickers, and that is focusing on those issues that will determine what we will be tomorrow, not today. Of course when I look at these dismal statistics, I can't help but think about all the other issues - adult illiteracy (25 percent!), obesity, drug use, smoking, rampant diabetes, poor diets, lack of education, etc - that form concentric circles around the issues facing children. And who is tackling those? (You have to believe education - or the lack thereof - is at the root of all of our ills)
Vision 2020 is only an advisory group, but let's hope our elected officials are listening to their recommendations and not just paying lip service to these folks who volunteer their time to improve our community. So here they are, the highlights from the 2009 Report Card on the state of Kern County children. Brace yourself.
Among the findings:
* More than half of Kern County children are Latino (54 percent), followed by Caucasian (35 percent) African American (5 percent) and Asian (3 percent)
* Single mother households are the majority of single parent homes. Sixty-eight percent of single parents homes are headed by mothers.
* Grandparents are increasing their role as primary caregivers in Kern County. Four percent of kids under 18 are being cared for by their grandparents.
* Child abuse here is more prevalent than other parts of the state. In 2007, we had 17,157 referrals for child abuse and neglect for a rate of 69.1 per 1,000 children, higher than the state rate of 49.2.
* In 2007, 5,187 children were abused or neglected in Kern County. That gives us a rate almost twice the state average.
* Our media family income was 28 percent less than the state and 24 percent less than the nation. It was $44,469 in Kern County compared with $62,040 in the state and $58,686 in the nation.
* Latino and African-American kids have higher child poverty rates than other races. Together these groups comprise 60 percent of Kern's total child population but they comprise 79 percent of the total children living in poverty.
* Six out of every 10 public school children receive free or reduced price school meals.
* Good news: the overall rate of births to teenage mothers has declined since 2000.
* Bad news: the high school graduation rate is getting worse. For the 2006-2007 school year, the graduation rate was 73.5 percent, compared to 80.6 percent in the state.
* One in four Kern County high school students dropped out of school for an adjusted four-year dropout rate of 25 percent, higher than the state average of 21 percent.
* Juvenile felony arrests for violent crimes have increased 44 percent since 2005.