Children Now, a statewide advocacy organization that works on children’s issues, recently released its annual report card on the well-being of California’s children. Using 30 indicators, from prenatal care to high school graduation rates, the report provides insight on a county-by-county basis into how California’s children are faring.
Like the rest of the state, there were a few bright spots, but on the whole, Marin performed poorly. Especially in light of the tremendous resources this county has at its disposal, we aren’t living up to our potential for the 52,200 children who live here.
For example, less than half of Marin’s children (under age 5) in low-income families saw a dentist in the past year. Another disturbing statistic shows that while 88 percent of Marin’s seniors graduated high school on time, only 55 percent were career- or college-ready.
Many of these data points are further broken down by race, and not surprisingly, Latino and black children are faring significantly worse than white children in Marin. Evidence of the county’s systemic inequities is reflected in the Children Now report, and these inequities are damaging to our future vitality.
There is one troubling blank on Marin’s report card. According to Children Now, there is no reliable data for the number of Marin’s 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled either in preschool or in transitional kindergarten. In order to arrive at its numbers, Children Now used Marin’s responses to the American Community Survey, an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Although the ACS measures preschool enrollment in every county, the margin of error for Marin County’s response was too large to ensure the survey truly represented what’s actually happening for preschool-aged children. So, we do not reliably know how many 3- and 4-year-olds are attending preschool in Marin, let alone how those numbers break out by race.
Further, while we know that not all of our preschool slots are being filled, we do know we have children who are eligible but are not attending.
Why is this important? Because quality preschool and child care are critical stepping stones for the future success of our children. Science now shows us that children begin learning the minute they are born – not the day they start kindergarten. The first five years of life are the building blocks for a better future. And children who start behind require more costly interventions to try and bring them up to the same level as their preschool-attending peers.
We can do better. Funding for a Marin-specific survey on child care and preschool enrollment is necessary so that we have reliable data. We need to understand how many families are eligible for state and federal subsidized programs, and if they are not enrolling their children, why not? Is it a matter of outreach, access, or specific needs? Accurate data will help ensure that our resources are directed effectively and efficiently for all who live here.
To learn more about Children Now and how well Marin takes care of its children, come to First 5 Marin’s Communications Forum, set for 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 28 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Rafael. To register, call 415-257-8555.
Meredith Parnell is executive director of MarinKids, an advocacy organization working to prioritize the well-being of children in Marin. Chandra Alexandre is the CEO of Community Action Marin, the county’s designated anti-poverty agency and the largest provider of free and affordable child care for low-income and eligible families.