California Ranks in Bottom Third of States in Child Well-Being as Youth Depression and Anxiety Jump By 70%

OAKLAND — California ranks 33rd in child well-being, according to the 2022 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how children and families are faring.

The annual report focuses this year on youth mental health, concurring with a recent assessment by the U.S. Surgeon General that the country is facing a youth mental health crisis. California kids experienced
the second largest increase in depression and anxiety among all states, with 7.0% of children ages 3–17
diagnosed with depression or anxiety in 2016, increasing to 11.9% in 2020. In comparison, youth with
depression or anxiety rose by 26% nationwide between 2016 and 2020.

Racial and ethnic disparities in access to care and exposure to both overt and systemic racism contribute
to additional mental health and wellness burdens for children of color. The suicide rate among Black youth in California has dramatically increased in recent years; in 2020 the suicide rate for Black children was 12.3 per 100,000 youth, nearly twice the rate for other Californian children (6.6 per 100,000).

Further, many LGBTQ+2 young people encounter mental health challenges such as bullying and family rejection, while 41% of California heterosexual high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row, 75% of LGBTQ+ students reported such feelings3.
“Not only are we seeing a significant increase in the need for mental health services, but California’s kids
are also facing too many barriers accessing these critical services. In fact, 65% of California youth with
major depression do not receive any mental health treatment due to lack of access to services. The State
must treat this issue like the emergency it is, and increase children’s access to mental health services
now.” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, California’s member of the KIDS COUNT network.

Each year, the Data Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains —
economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors — and ranks the states
according to how children are faring overall. The data in this year’s report are a mix of pre-pandemic and
more recent figures and are the latest available.

California’s overall ranking of 33rd (broken down by issue area below) is far too low given California’s
wealth and leadership in other areas, such as environmentalism, technological innovation, and ensuring
equal rights for all:

  • 45th in economic well-being: California continues to be the worst state in the nation for
    percentage of children living in households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
  • 37th in education: The State has slowly improved academic outcomes for students in grades
    TK-12. However, California must do much more to support academic engagement and progress,
    especially for children in marginalized groups.
  • 7th in health: California ranks fourth in percentage of children without health insurance, and sixth in percentage of low-birth-weight babies. Additionally, California’s long-term investments in accurate sex education and access to birth control have helped lower the teen birth rate.

“California’s national ranking – 33rd in child well-being – is unacceptable. Given that we rank in the top ten states in overall taxes, and with our national leadership in so many other domains, California should be leading the country in child well-being. While we applaud the significant investments and reforms in this year’s state budget, our policymakers need to take even stronger action and commit to making California the national leader when it comes to kids,” said Lempert.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation calls for lawmakers to heed the Surgeon General’s warning and respond
by developing programs and policies to ease mental health burdens on children and their families. They
urge policymakers to:

  • Prioritize meeting kids’ basic needs. Youth who grow up in poverty are two to three times more
    likely to develop mental health conditions than their peers. Children need a solid foundation of
    nutritious food, stable housing and safe neighborhoods — and their families need financial
    stability — to foster positive mental health and wellness.
  • Ensure every child has access to the mental health care they need, when and where they
    need it. Schools should increase the presence of social workers, psychologists and other
    mental health professionals on staff and strive to meet the 250-to-1 ratio of students to
    counselors recommended by the American School Counselor Association, and they can work
    with local health care providers and local and state governments to make additional federal
    resources available and coordinate treatment.
  • Bolster mental health care that takes into account young people’s experiences and
    identities. Care should be trauma-informed — designed to promote a child’s healing and
    emotional security — and culturally relevant to the child’s life. It should be informed by the latest
    evidence and research and should be geared toward early intervention, which can be especially
    important in the absence of a formal diagnosis of mental illness.

Image Sources

  • Depressed youth: Shutterstock