California children are increasingly experiencing stress

Due to the pandemic, California children are increasingly experiencing stress, hunger and serious mental health issues, according to Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and a Roadmap for Recovery, a 50-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how families are faring during the COVID-19 crisis.

This KIDS COUNT® report examined data from weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that demonstrate how families across the country are challenged to meet basic needs during this pandemic while managing school, work and mental health. The Foundation finds that the concurrent health and economic crises are exacerbating trends that show families are unable to fulfill basic needs.

“California children are in crisis,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, California’s representative in the KIDS COUNT network. “Even before COVID-19, California was not prioritizing kids, especially kids that face systemic barriers to their well-being, including Black and Latino and other children of color. Now is the time for state leaders to make a long-overdue, significant shift in state priorities to put children and families first and ensure our collective future.”

The report shows how urgent state and federal intervention is to the health and well-being of families with children. By measuring food security, the ability to make rent or mortgage payments, health insurance status and mental health concerns, the Casey Foundation identified four pain points for children and families that require immediate action. Percentages of families with children who have experienced challenges as measured by these four indicators are listed below:

  • Fifteen percent of respondents with children said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat. The data also show racial and ethnic disparities, with Black, Latino and other families and kids of color faring worse than their white peers.
  • Many Californians lost employment income since the start of the pandemic, making it difficult for families to afford housing—20% had slight or no confidence they would make the next rent or mortgage payment on time.
  • One in eight families with children (12%) did not have health insurance, meaning kids are not receiving the care they need to stay healthy. While California has been a leader expanding coverage to all kids and in reducing the rate of uninsured children for the last two decades, there is a concerning and significant uptick in the number of uninsured children.
  • One in four respondents with children (25%) in their household felt down, depressed or hopeless, indicating a widespread need for access to mental health care. California does not currently have a sustainable, long-term plan to support children, teen and young adult’s mental well-being. If state leaders do not step up now, consequences could be dire.

“The data show the heartbreaking reality—the pandemic is widening disparities that existed before this crisis. More children, especially Black and brown children, have lost their security and their connection to school, caring adults and peers, and as a result are struggling with mental health issues. There is no more urgent matter than addressing the challenges that kids are facing,” said Lempert.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation urges policymakers and child advocates to unite across differences and put COVID-19 response at the top of 2021 agendas to ensure that children have what they need to survive and thrive. The Foundation calls on elected officials and other decision makers to:

  • Put racial and ethnic equity first in policymaking by using disaggregated data and ensuring that the policymaking process is informed by the diverse perspectives of those hardest hit by the crisis and created in partnership with communities. This approach should underpin any concrete policy actions.
  • Prioritize the physical and mental health of all children by guaranteeing that any vaccine will be available without cost as a factor and by retaining and strengthening the Affordable Care Act. To promote mental health, policymakers should work to reduce the student-to-school-counselor ratio in all school settings to levels recommended by mental health professionals.
  • Help families with children achieve financial stability and bolster their well-being by expanding access to unemployment insurance for part-time and gig economy workers, low-wage workers and students and by expanding child care access. Additionally, policymakers should eliminate barriers to accessing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). And beyond any temporary housing assistance programs aimed at heading off a foreclosure or eviction crisis, federal policymakers should expand the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, and increase the overall availability of public housing.
  • Ensure schools are better funded, more equitably funded and ready to meet the needs of students disparately affected by the pandemic by boosting school funding to protect against the economic impact of the pandemic, build maintenance-of-equity requirements into relief packages and address disparities in technology access at home and in the classroom.


Image Sources

  • Schoolchildren: Shutterstock