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.

Posted by

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 27th, 2022 at 4:41 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Post a comment/question: