California Families Face a Child Care Crunch (Part 1): Guest commentary by Gemma DiMatteo

Supply of Child Care Spaces in Licensed Facilities: 2019, 2021

Table showing the number of licensed child care spaces in California child care centers and family child care homes in 2019 and 2021.

California’s licensed child care supply continues to decline, although the decrease was less than expected during the COVID-19 pandemic, likely due to public supports implemented in 2020 and 2021.

Guest author Gemma DiMatteo.

In this first part of a two-part series on child care and early education, guest author Gemma DiMatteo, research director at the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, discusses recent key findings about the state’s licensed child care system.

The California Child Care Resource & Referral Network (“the Network”) has released its 2021 California Child Care Portfolio, with county- and state-level data available through and the Network’s data tool.

New data show licensed child care supply declined

Compared with 2019, data from 2021 show a continued decrease in the state’s licensed child care supply, with losses of:

The pandemic could have had a much greater impact on licensed child care supply statewide; however, significant public investment in supporting child care programs likely prevented many from closing. Historically, California has seen a trend of greater decline in family child care home spaces than child care center spaces, but the pandemic seems to have shifted this trend, with a greater decline in center spaces. This is likely due to group size restrictions making it unfeasible to continue operating a center.

There was regional variation in how supply changed

There was substantial variation across counties and regions in the change of licensed child care supply. The northern region of the state saw the biggest decline in spaces (-5%), followed by the southern region (-3%), while the Central Valley and Bay Area experienced changes (negative and positive, respectively) of 1% or less.

Policy implications

These modest declines in child care supply are not nearly as steep as many anticipated with the pandemic. While the reasons for this require further study, it’s clear that child care received a lot of attention and financial support in 2020 and 2021, and that likely played a large role in preventing a steeper decline, demonstrating that increased public investment creates a more stable child care system for families.

Looking beyond one-time investments and expiring policy changes, the Network recommends the following actions be considered if California’s child care system is to be sustained and fortified:

  • Increasing pay for all child care workers.
  • Eliminating, to the extent of the law, the share of subsidized child care costs families are required to pay.
  • Codifying a system of payment for providers of subsidized care based on enrollment.

Visit the Network’s website for more policy ideas and child care resources.

In Part 2 of this series, out in February, we’ll examine the gap between child care demand and availability, families’ barriers to access (including cost), and how these vary across the state. Stay tuned.

KidsData in the News

Child Care Is Crucial to Families and the Economy. California Should Treat It That Way

An editorial in the Sacramento Bee cites KidsData and the Network for child care costs and spaces data.

Children’s Health Resource

Family-Focused Interventions to Prevent Substance Use Disorders in Adolescence

Proceedings from a National Academies workshop explore effective family-focused interventions in primary care settings for preventing substance use disorders, along with efforts to incorporate them into state health care policies.


ACEs Aware Implementation With Intention

This webinar series is designed to help California clinics implement adverse childhood experience (ACE) screening and response. Experts will provide practical, step-by-step guidance, as well as resources and tools to help clinics on their path toward ACE screening implementation.

Recently Released Data

We recently released data about breastfeeding and early care and education. See links to the latest here.

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A Bright Year, a Brighter Future

Children jumping joyfully at the beach

It’s been an exciting and productive first full year in our new home at PRB! We want to thank our partners and all of you who harness the power of data to improve the health and well-being of children and families across our state. While our operations have changed, our mission remains the same—to be your leading resource for data to build a better future for our kids.

2022 highlights:

  • In partnership with the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, we released a fourth wave of exclusive data on family experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, including 55 new indicators on California children’s mental health, health care use, telehealth access, vaccinations, and more. If you missed our latest webinar, access the slides and recording.
  • Our data and expertise were featured on CNN, public radio’s “Here and Now,” and in dozens of local news outlets, advancing the conversation on demographics, poverty, homelessness, child care, COVID-19, mental health, family violence, the social safety net, and more.

Behind the scenes, we’re preparing to make the shift from our current foundation funding model to relying more on support from people like you. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to KidsData today. Together, we can build a brighter 2023—and beyond.

Recently Released Data

We recently released data about dental care and family experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. See links to the latest here.

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Pandemic Remains a Source of Disruption and Stress, Particularly for Families of Children With Special Health Care Needs

Photo of a kindergarten teacher sitting with students in a circle on the floor. They are all wearing masks. The teacher is holding a tablet and a boy is looking at it while clapping his hands.

New data on family experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in California suggest that children with special health care needs (CSHCN) continue to face significant COVID-19-related challenges nearly three years into the pandemic. As students return to in-person classes, the rollback of public health orders has heightened safety concerns among caregivers, and many still fear their children are being left behind academically.

Despite suggestions that life has returned to “normal,” in June one-third of parents and caregivers statewide (33%) reported feelings of nervousness or stress always or most of the time in the previous month—up from 29% in July 2021. Nearly half (45%) said their household finances were negatively impacted since the start of the pandemic, up from less than one-third (32%) a year earlier. And more than half (58%) said they were worried for the safety of their children since public health measures, like masking mandates, relaxed. Rates of concern were even higher in households with CSHCN.

Among households with CSHCN, parents and caregivers were worried about their children’s mental health, even as they said their children were more likely to receive care. In June, 54% of CSHCN caregivers said they were moderately or extremely concerned about the mental health of their oldest child in the previous month, down from 62% the previous July, but considerably higher than the estimate for caregivers in households without CSHCN (28%).

Every effort should be made to ensure that all families have the support they need to recover fully from the COVID-19 pandemic and meet their physical, emotional, educational, and material needs consistently. Read more about policy and program options to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and promote child and family health and well-being.

Funding for’s new information on family experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic is provided by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health.


To learn about these new data, join us for “How Families of Children With Special Health Care Needs Are Coping in the ‘New Normal’,” a webinar hosted by PRB and sponsored by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, on Tuesday, Nov. 15, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PT.

Children’s Health Resource

Supporting Children With Disabilities: Lessons From the Pandemic

Proceedings from a June 2022 National Academies workshop describe policies and practices that could improve the system of care for children with disabilities as well as improve access to services for underserved and marginalized populations.

KidsData in the News

The Math Behind the Poverty Line: Researcher Says Calculations Don’t Account for High Housing Costs

In an interview with public radio’s “Here and Now,” KidsData Acting Director Beth Jarosz discusses who is most impacted by inflation and the rising cost of living, and what an outdated poverty measure means in the United States today.

Good News

San Francisco’s New Department of Early Childhood Wants to Make It Easier for Families to Get Subsidized Child Care

Recent changes in San Francisco and across the state are simplifying the process of finding publicly funded child care and early education services.

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Lead Poisoning Prevention Week: New Data Show Drop-Off in Screening

Number of California Young People Ages 0 to 20 Screened for Lead Poisoning,
by Blood Lead Level, 2010-2020

Trend graph showing blood lead levels among California children and young adults ages 0 to 20 screened for lead poisoning between 2010 and 2020.

To protect children from lead poisoning, California must increase childhood

California recently declared October Children’s Environmental Health Month, aiming to expand awareness and action around environmental health hazards to children. The last week of October also marks International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. Lead poisoning is the most common environmental illness among kids in California, with even minimal exposure to the heavy metal posing serious long-term risks to young people statewide.

There is no known safe level of lead exposure.

Screening is critical because lead exposure usually does not result in obvious symptoms and often goes undetected. Buildup of lead in the body, even at low levels, can cause lifelong physical, neurological, cognitive, and behavioral problems, and high levels of blood lead can be fatal.

More lead exposure screening is urgently needed.

New data reveal that the number of California youth screened for lead poisoning has dropped dramatically in recent years. In 2020, the number of blood lead tests for young people ages 0-20 was nearly 50% lower than in 2010. While COVID-19 disruptions help explain a sharp 2020 drop-off compared with 2019 (nearly 30%), the trend reveals that falling screening rates have been a problem in California for at least the last decade.

What do blood lead levels mean?

As of 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends public health action for children recording blood lead levels (BLLs) of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) or higher. At present, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has a higher threshold for services (4.5 mcg/dL) but plans to adopt the CDC’s new recommendations. In California, young people with two BLL results at 9.5 mcg/dL or above (or a single result at 14.5 mcg/dL or above) are eligible for comprehensive case management support, including public health nursing services, home inspection, and environmental investigation.

Due to federal and state regulations, the vast majority of young people tested in California are under age 6 (92% in 2020). In 2020, 1.2% of this group (4,130 kids) recorded BLLs of 4.5 mcg/dL or higher. Among ages 6 to 20, 2.3% had BLLs between 4.5 and 9.49 mcg/dL, while 0.5% had levels at 9.5 mcg/dL or above. Altogether, this means there were at least 4,930 young people statewide, most under age 6, in need of public health services for lead exposure.

But without comprehensive testing, the true scope of the problem remains unknown.

All children are at risk, some disproportionately so.

Lead exposure usually occurs through contact with contaminated paint, water, dust, or soil. Children under age 6 are the most vulnerable, as lead is easily absorbed by their developing nervous systems. They are also more likely to be exposed to lead through playing on the ground or hand-mouth contact.

Risk of lead exposure is widespread across communities in California. Analysis by CDPH found that more than 95% of California neighborhoods (census tracts) have at least one risk factor for childhood lead exposure, such as being close to a freeway or having a large share of housing built before 1978. And some communities face multiple risks—10% of neighborhoods have five or more risk factors. Because of these varying risk levels, exposure rates vary widely. Among counties with data in 2020, the percentage of young people with BLLs at or above 4.5 mcg/dL ranged from 0.5% to nearly 5% of those tested.

In addition to differences by location, disparities exist across demographic groups. Inequities in exposure to environmental hazards such as lead have persisted for years, with children of color and those in low-income families facing disproportionate risks.

All children have a right to live, play, and go to school in clean, safe environments. Policymakers, public agencies, schools, health care providers, funders, community organizations, and others—can and should do much more to prevent children’s exposure to lead, increase screening efforts, and improve responses for those who are exposed. Read more about strategies for action.


Join us for “How Families of Children With Special Health Care Needs Are Coping in the ‘New Normal’,” a webinar hosted by PRB and sponsored by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, on Tuesday, Nov. 15, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PT.

Take Action

Census Bureau Invites Public Input on Designing 2030 Census

The decennial census is the cornerstone of data-driven government policymaking, voter representation, and social analysis for a decade. The U.S. Census Bureau is looking for ways to improve the 2030 Census through strategies for contacting and providing support to the public, motivating everyone to respond, and using new technology and data sources. Submit your thoughts by Nov. 15.

Children’s Health Resource

LGBTQ Youth and Young Adults Are Coming Out Into a Polarized Environment—and Finding Valuable School and Community Support

Calling out the vulnerability and discrimination LGBTQ youth face can be a starting point for adults and institutions that support youth—and youth themselves—to act for change, according to a new PRB article.

KidsData in the News

A CapRadio story on child care uncertainty among Black families cited KidsData on child care costs and availability.

An article in The Epoch Times (published in Chinese) about youth mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic cited KidsData on the ratio of students to school psychologists in Sacramento County.

A UCI News report on the formation of a community alliance to advance University of California, Irvine as a Latino-thriving institution cited KidsData on California’s K-12 student demographics.


Better Life Lab’s Child Care Innovation Reporting Grants

The Better Life Lab is commissioning a series of reported, data- and character-driven written, video, and/or graphic stories and illustrations that highlight innovations within the child care field. Pitches will be considered and stories commissioned on a rolling basis through spring 2023.

Recently Released Data

We recently released data about asthma and lead poisoning. See links to the latest here.

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Webinar: How Families of Children With Special Health Care Needs Are Coping in the “New Normal”

Join us on Tuesday, November 15, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PT for How Families of Children With Special Health Care Needs Are Coping in the “New Normal,” a webinar highlighting new data on family experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families of children with special health care needs (CSHCN) have faced significant challenges over the course of the pandemic. In California, their experiences—from caregiver stress to concerns about emotional and mental health—were captured in four surveys from 2020 to 2022. Speakers will highlight key findings, demonstrate how to access the data, share insights on the pandemic’s impact on families of CSHCN, and suggest opportunities for positive change.

Register here.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with instructions for joining the webinar.


Beth Jarosz, Acting Director, KidsData
Beth is a program director at PRB, where she manages California-based projects, including KidsData. She has more than 20 years of experience in neighborhood-level data for decision-making across a wide variety of topics ranging from child health to housing. She lives in San Diego County.

Lilian Ansari, Family Advocate
After earning her master’s degree in psychology, Lilian spent nearly 20 years working with various nonprofits and public schools. For the past 15 years, she has advocated for the needs of her own children as well as others. She currently serves as the vice president of the board of directors at Regional Center of the East Bay. Originally from Iran, she now lives in the East Bay with her family.

If you have questions, please email

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Kids’ Emergency and Hospital Visits Dropped Sharply in 2020, But That’s Only Part of the Story

Emergency Department Visits Among California Children, 2016-2020

California children ages 0 to 17 made almost 1.2 million fewer visits to emergency departments in 2020 than in 2019—a drop of 43%, according to the latest data. Similarly, the state’s 171,769 child hospitalizations in 2020 represented a 22% decline from the previous year.

These drops are likely due to a combination of pandemic-related reasons and behavioral changes. Social distancing and decreased physical activity may have lowered the incidence of certain illnesses and injuries. At the same time, hospital avoidance may have resulted in unmet care needs for some children.

The mix of reasons for emergency department visits and hospitalizations also tell an important story—the shares for asthma/bronchitis fell, while the shares for traumatic injury rose. In addition, trends show that emergency department visits involving child maltreatment did not fall as fast as emergency visits overall.

The latest data also reveal that the top reasons for children’s hospital visits have stayed the same for years:

Mental Illness Main Reason for Hospitalization
  • Since 2008, mental illness has been the most common reason for childhood hospitalization in California (17% of hospitalizations in 2020).
  • The next most common diagnosis is asthma/bronchitis (5% of hospitalizations in 2020).
  • Similar to ED visits, the share of hospitalizations for these reasons varies widely at the local level. For instance, in 2020, the percentage of hospital discharges for mental diseases and disorders was higher than 25% for Placer and Sonoma counties and lower than 10% for Butte, Imperial, and Santa Barbara counties.
Medi-Cal Program Pays for Most Hospital Visits
  • Medi-Cal is the payment source for most childhood ED visits, covering 63% of visits statewide in 2020. At the county level, the portion of ED visits covered by Medi-Cal ranged from 33% to 80%. Private insurance covered 29% of ED visits statewide in 2020, similar to previous years.
  • For childhood hospitalizations, Medi-Cal paid for just over half (51%) in 2020, whereas private insurance covered 37%. Since 2002, Medi-Cal has covered a growing share of hospitalizations, while the share covered by private insurers has shrunk.
New Dataset: Hospital Visits Due to Child Maltreatment

KidsData has added a new set of indicators on ED visits and hospitalizations due to suspected or confirmed child abuse or neglect. Among the key findings:

Read more about strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect and to reduce preventable hospital use.

Funding for’s new information on child maltreatment-related ED visits and hospitalizations is provided by the California Department of Public Health, Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, Essentials for Childhood Initiative.


Join us for “Child Maltreatment-Related Injuries During the COVID-19 Pandemic in California,” a webinar hosted by the California Essentials for Childhood Initiative and KidsData, on Thursday, September 29, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. PT.

Take Action

Federal Evidence Agenda on LGBTQI+ Equity

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is asking for public input on how the federal government can better produce data on sexual orientation and gender identity to address disparities; promote equity; and protect privacy, security, and civil rights. Submit your comments by October 3.


NIH Competition to Reduce Maternal Deaths in Regions That Lack Maternity Care

The National Institutes of Health is offering up to $8 million in cash prizes to accelerate development of home-based or point-of-care technologies to improve postpartum outcomes. Submissions for the first phase of awards are due November 1.

Good News

Child Poverty Fell to Record Low in 2021

Child poverty, calculated by the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), fell to its lowest recorded level in 2021, declining 46% from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released this month.

State Program That Provides Children’s Hearing Aids May Be Expanded to Include More Families

The Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Program may soon extend eligibility to families with partial insurance coverage and to youth up age 21, helping an additional 2,000 young people.

KidsData in the News

Channel Islands YMCA’s Newest Facility in Santa Barbara Will Serve Homeless Young Adults

A Noozhawk story cited KidsData on the share of public school students who experience homelessness.

Recently Released Data

We recently released data about child abuse and neglect and hospital use. See links to the latest here.

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Data Show Children of Color Are Systematically Denied Equitable Opportunities to Thrive

Number of California Students per 1,000 Suspended From School, by Race/Ethnicity,

Bar chart displays the number of California students per 1,000 suspended from school, by race and ethnicity, for the schools years 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Note: Data are for the school years 2018-19 and 2019-20.

For many decades, state and national data have shown that communities of color—particularly African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children and families—generally experience disproportionately poor outcomes across multiple domains of well-being. These domains include family economics, safety, school outcomes and experiences, mental and physical health, access to services, and more. KidsData now brings together data on these domains in a page dedicated to racial and ethnic equity to facilitate researchers, policymakers, and advocates’ easy access to the evidence.

Many leaders and organizations are working hard to improve outcomes for young people of color and some gaps have narrowed, but these inequities remain an urgent public health concern nationwide.

Why Do Racial/Ethnic Inequities Persist?

The social, economic, and environmental conditions that young people experience profoundly influence their health and well-being across the life course. Long-standing disparate outcomes for children and youth of color are a consequence of the poorer conditions they generally experience. Unequal conditions in turn reflect unequal distribution of power and resources among racial and ethnic groups, driven by structural racism and discriminatory practices embedded in our policies, institutions, and culture.

Data Drive Awareness and Action

Recognizing the importance of tracking disparities and supporting action to eliminate them, KidsData provides more than 150 measures broken down by race/ethnicity, along with explanatory context, evidence-based policy and program suggestions to help counteract disadvantage, and links to additional resources. We encourage you to put these data to work.

Spotlights From the Data:

  • African American/Black children are more likely than their white counterparts to have two or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), according to a national survey from 2016 to 2020. In California, the share of African American/Black children with at least two ACEs is around double that of white children.
  • In California in 2018-2020, more than 1 in 5 African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino children lived on income below the Supplemental Poverty Measure threshold, compared with fewer than 1 in 12 of their white and multiracial peers.
  • Asian youth in California were more likely to have been bullied or harassed at school at least once in the previous year because of their race/ethnicity or national origin compared with students of other backgrounds, according to 2017-2019 data for grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs. Estimates of youth bullied often (four or more times) in the previous year due to race/ethnicity were highest for Asian and African American/Black students, at 9%.
  • Around 25% of Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native youth had high levels of developmental supports at school, compared with at least 30% for Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, African American/Black, and white students in grades 7, 9, and 11, and non-traditional programs in 2017-2019.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native youth were most likely to have been afraid of getting beaten up at school in the previous year, while African American/Black youth were most likely to feel unsafe or very unsafe at school, when compared with youth in other racial/ethnic groups in 2017-2019.
  • In 2021, rates of reading proficiency among California students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 were 60% or higher for Asian, Filipino, white, and multiracial students, and lower than 45% for African American/Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander groups.
  • In California’s high school graduating class of 2020, the percentages of African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native students not completing high school (13% and 14%, respectively) were nearly double that for white students (7%) and more than three times that for Asian and Filipino students (4%).
  • In California, 8% of American Indian/Alaska Native children did not have health insurance coverage in 2018—more than twice the estimate for children in other racial/ethnic groups. The uninsured estimate for this population nationwide was even higher, at 13%.
  • California and U.S. infants born to African American/Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander mothers have the lowest rates of timely prenatal care. The greatest burden of adverse birth outcomes, such as low birthweight and infant mortality, typically is experienced by African American/Black families.
  • The juvenile felony arrest rate for African American/Black youth in California has dropped dramatically in recent decades; yet, as of 2020, it remains almost 5 times higher than the arrest rate for Hispanic/Latino youth, and nearly 10 times that for white youth.
  • In 2017-2019, around one in five American Indian/Alaska Native, multiracial, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander youth in California seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year, a larger share than their grade 9, 11, and non-traditional peers in other racial/ethnic groups.
  • African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children and young adults consistently have higher death rates than young people in other racial/ethnic groups, statewide and nationally. The rate of death due to firearms among California African American/Black youth in 2020 (25 per 100,000) was more than 4 times the rate for Hispanic/Latino youth, more than 7 times the rate for white youth, and over 16 times the rate for Asian youth.
How Can We Improve Outcomes for Young People of Color?

Policymakers and stakeholders in multiple sectors have a role in addressing disparities and ensuring that all children and families, regardless of race or ethnicity, have equitable opportunities to thrive. Eliminating these inequities will require increased investments in evidence-based policies and system-level changes. Examples include:

  • Ensure affordable, high-quality child care, health care, and health insurance are available to all families.
  • Increase access to affordable, culturally appropriate mental health care.
  • Provide safe, effective pre-K-12 schools with adequate support services in communities of color.
  • Continue to reform school disciplinary practices and the juvenile justice system to emphasize positive youth outcomes.

Promoting equity for children and families of color, including immigrant families, not only will improve children’s lives in the short-term but also can strengthen the next generation, creating significant, positive social and economic impacts for society. Use KidsData’s new racial and ethnic equity page to identify disparities and explore policy solutions.

Call for Input on Policies Contributing to Racial/Ethnic Health Inequities

A new National Academies committee is seeking input on federal policies that contribute to racial/ethnic health inequities and potential solutions, including lived experiences navigating federal programs and systems. Learn more and share your feedback.

KidsData in the News

Interact Clubs to Hold Mental Health Awareness Walk

A Tehachapi News story on youth mental health cited KidsData on youth suicide rates in Kern County.

Feeding America Riverside-San Bernardino Receives $60K Grant

A Patch article about a new grant to support nutrition programs cited KidsData on the share of students who participate in free and reduced-price school program meals.

Recently Released Data

We recently released data about prenatal care. See links to the latest here.

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Webinar: Prevalence, Disparities, and Impacts of Child Maltreatment-Related Injuries During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Join us Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. PT for “Child Maltreatment-Related Injuries During the COVID-19 Pandemic in California,” a webinar hosted by the California Essentials for Childhood (EfC) Initiative and KidsData.

This webinar will highlight data on non-fatal child abuse and neglect injuries treated in California emergency departments and hospitals from 2016 to 2020. Presenters from EfC and KidsData will describe the frequency, severity, and demographics of child maltreatment-related injuries before and during the pandemic; show how to access the data; and share strategies and resources to support service providers, community coalitions, and others in their efforts to prevent child maltreatment and adverse childhood experiences.

Register now for the “Child Maltreatment-Related Injuries During the COVID-19 Pandemic in California” webinar. Upon registration, a calendar invitation with Zoom information will be emailed to you. If you have questions, please email

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High Youth Suicide Rates Can Be Reduced With Mental Health Care

Trend graph of U.S. and California youth suicide rates from 1999-2001 to 2018-2020.

Tragically, 527 California young people ages 5 to 24 took their own lives in 2020, devastating family and friends. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24 statewide and nationally, behind only unintentional injuries and homicide.

In the decade between 2009 and 2019, youth suicides increased dramatically—three-year rates jumped more than 27% for California youth ages 15 to 24 and more than 44% for youth nationwide. In 2018-2020, however—for the first time since 2007-2009—neither the California nor U.S. rate increased. In California, this change in trend was driven by a drop in suicides among young adults ages 20 to 24.

These flattening trends may be a promising sign of future decline, but it is too soon to know. At the same time, suicides among children ages 5 to 14 are trending in the wrong direction: In California, the number of suicides in this age group doubled between 2019 and 2020, from 27 to 54.

How can we reach a young person before a suicide occurs?

Suicides can be prevented with timely, high-quality mental health care, but many children and youth are not receiving needed treatment that could prevent emotional health issues from escalating to the level of self-harm or suicide.

Nurturing, stable relationships and environments also can help prevent and mitigate youth emotional health problems.

Accessing Mental Health Care Is a Critical Part of the Problem

More than one in nine California children ages 3 to 17 had anxiety, depression, conduct problems, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to 2016-2020 estimates. Among these children, only about half (52%) received mental health treatment or counseling in the previous year—a figure similar to the national estimate. Most youth of color who need mental health services do not receive them, pointing to serious inequities in access to care, as research has shown.

Some youth and families with mental or behavioral health challenges choose not to seek treatment, but many who do face barriers to access such as difficulty finding available providers or specialists, cost, health insurance limitations, challenges with quality of care (for instance, lack of linguistic or cultural competence), and transportation.

To prevent youth suicides, it is critical that all young people and their families have access to high-quality, affordable, professional help for anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, substance misuse, and other emotional and behavioral health issues.

Which Youth Are Most at Risk of Suicide?

Some populations are at higher risk of committing suicide:

  • Boys and young men are far more likely to die by suicide than their female counterparts. In 2020, males accounted for 75% of suicides among California youth ages 15 to 24, and 80% of youth suicides nationwide.
  • Among those ages 15 to 24, a majority of suicides occur among young adults ages 20 to 24, who accounted for 63% of youth suicides in 2020, statewide and nationally.
  • Nationally, American Indian/Alaska Native youth have the highest suicide rates by far, compared with their peers in other racial/ethnic groups.
  • Additional groups at high risk for suicide include LGBTQ youth and those who are unhoused, in the child welfare or justice systems, bereaved by suicide, and experiencing mental illness, disabilities, or substance use disorders.

What Will It Take to Reverse Youth Suicide Trends?

For many years now, mental health professionals, advocates, and other leaders have been calling attention to the youth mental health crisis, and while the recent leveling off in state and U.S. youth suicide rates is certainly hopeful, young people are continuing to suffer and take their own lives at distressingly high rates. As those who’ve been working in this field know, we can and must collaborate across sectors to give these issues higher priority, provide long-term commitments with adequate funding, set effective policies, and focus on equity.

Here are some steps that can be taken now:

  • If you or someone you know needs help urgently, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or visit
  • Help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, encourage help-seeking, and promote education about warning signs and how to respond to people in need.
  • Support schools in their efforts to create positive school climates, teach social-emotional skills, offer school-based mental health services, and implement effective suicide prevention policies.
  • Support community efforts to provide youth with connections to caring adults and access to safe, positive activities, such as quality mentoring and after-school programs.
  • Empower youth as partners in local, state, and national mental health initiatives.
  • Support training for anyone who works directly with youth to recognize the signs of suicidal behavior, respond effectively, and help connect youth with appropriate resources.
  • Help expand the workforce of qualified mental health professionals, especially in underserved communities.
  • Help build a system in which all youth and families have access to a range of support services and high-quality, affordable mental health care with adequate insurance coverage.
  • Advocate for health care systems change to support youth mental health and suicide prevention.
  • Promote strategies to reduce access to lethal means such as firearms. In 2020, more than half (52%) of U.S. youth suicides were by firearm.

Read more about strategies to prevent youth suicide and promote positive mental health, and access related resources.

KidsData in the News

KidsData Acting Director Beth Jarosz is cited in India Post, K News Atlanta, El Observador, Người Việt, Península 360 Press, and World Journal articles discussing national and state-level trends in youth suicide and prevalence of childhood behavioral and mental health conditions.

Monterey County: Ballot Initiative Aims to Improve Child Care, Preschool Services

A Monterey Herald story on the Safe, Affordable Quality Child Care Act—a ballot initiative that would provide more than $55 million in funding over 10 years to support local child care and preschool programs in Monterey County—cited KidsData on child population and licensed child care spaces.

Children’s Health Resource

More Sleep Could Improve Many U.S. Teenagers’ Mental Health

California now requires most high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to support students’ well-being and safety. A new research highlight from PRB explains why that’s important.


Recently Released Data

We recently released data about demographics and youth suicide and self-inflicted injury.

See links to the latest here.

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Widespread Childhood Adversity Threatens the Long-Term Health of Adults and the Children Who Live With Them

Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences Among California Adults Living in Households With Children, 2013-2019

Pie chart showing the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences among California adults living in households with children in 2013-2019

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)—such as abuse, exposure to domestic violence, divorce of parents, and growing up with substance abuse or mental illness at home—can disrupt a child’s development and have lifelong negative consequences. Unfortunately, these experiences are all too common.

In California, two-thirds of adults living in households with children had at least one adverse experience in their childhood. Of those, more than a quarter had at least four ACEs, according to the latest estimates from the California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

Exposure to ACEs is linked to many chronic health conditions in adulthood, including cancer, depression, heart disease, obesity, and substance abuse. It is also linked to social problems such as behavioral and learning challenges, homelessness, poverty, and unemployment. The more adversities someone experiences, the higher the likelihood they will suffer substantial and long-lasting social, financial, and health effects throughout childhood and into adulthood. The effects can even be passed from generation to generation.

But negative outcomes aren’t inevitable. Support from healthy relationships and environments can buffer the negative effects that childhood adversities can have on a person’s life.

How Are Children Affected by Adults With ACEs?

Adults who experienced adversities in childhood are more likely to have economic hardship in adulthood. Children in families with economic hardship or high parental stress are more likely to experience adversities than children in less-stressful family environments. In addition, parents and caregivers who experience physical, mental, or financial difficulties of their own may struggle to nurture and provide buffering supports for their children. Because of these links, the effects of an adult’s ACEs can be transmitted to subsequent generations.

Who Is Most Affected by ACEs?

Some populations face greater adversities in childhood than others.

The BRFFS findings show, statewide, that in households with children:

How Can We Break the Cycle?

  • Get involved. Join a local coalition to be part of the effort.
  • Support protective factors like increasing social connectedness within the community; reducing poverty; and improving school readiness, neighborhood safety, and play areas for children.
  • Support efforts to reduce stigma around seeking help with depression, parenting challenges, substance misuse, and suicidal ideation.
  • Improve monitoring:
    • Screen for ACEs; find ways to gather data on childhood adversities and track trends while protecting patient privacy.
    • Expand sample sizes in surveys like the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
    • Track other factors associated with adversities, like child poverty, incarceration, and substance misuse.

Read more about strategies to prevent and address childhood adversity.

Funding for’s latest information on adult retrospective ACEs is provided by the California Department of Public Health, Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, Essentials for Childhood Initiative.



Join us for “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in California,” a webinar hosted by the California Essentials for Childhood Initiative and KidsData that will be held on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m PT.


KidsData in the News

U.S. Birth Rates Rose Slightly in 2021 After a Steep Drop in the First Year of the Pandemic, CDC Data Shows

In a CNN interview, KidsData Acting Director Beth Jarosz discusses the rise in the preterm birth rate in 2021, as well as the overall increase in births that year.

Alta tasa de suicidios entre jóvenes es indicador de la crisis de salud mental

A La Opinión story quoted KidsData Acting Director Beth Jarosz on worrying trends in teen mental health and groups, including indigenous and LGBTQ+ youth, who are at high risk.

California Has a Child Care Crisis. How Finding It—and Paying for It—Can Be a Nightmare

A Fresno Bee article cited KidsData information on the availability of licensed child care.

Free Parenting Program Helps Orange County Children Navigate Anxiety and Fear

A Business Enterprise article cited KidsData information on the share of children ages 12 to 17 who reported needing help for emotional or mental health problems such as feeling sad, anxious, or nervous.

Humboldt Child Care Challenges Highlighted on “National Day Without Child Care”

A KRCR television story cited KidsData figures on the availability of child-care spaces for Humboldt County children living in working families.


Children’s Health Resources

Adverse Childhood Experiences Data Report

The California Essentials for Childhood Initiative has released a new report describing the prevalence of ACEs in California, ACEs-related demographic disparities, and the impacts of ACEs on mental health, behavior, and chronic disease.

Gun Violence and American Children

PRB compiled research on how gun violence affects youth in the United States and what policy strategies can help reduce risk.


Recently Released Data

We recently released data about childhood adversity and resilience, children’s emotional health, deaths, and juvenile arrests.

See links to the latest here.

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