Fewer kids in Napa County visit the dentist regularly than kids in other California counties. More San Francisco children teeter on the brink of depression than other children do. And for some reason, fewer parents in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties are reading to their very young children than parents living elsewhere.
These are among hundreds of illuminating and sometimes heart-wrenching facts revealed in a new county-by-county study of the well-being of California's youngest residents, published Wednesday by Children Now, a national nonprofit advocacy group based in Oakland.
By peering in at the details of children's health and happiness - and showing precisely where they are doing well or poorly - the group hopes to push counties to take action to improve the lives of children.
Most surprising to Lempert was that so many young people reported feeling disconnected from adults - and not particularly safe at their high school.
"I was really alarmed by that," Lempert said. "Especially in urban counties like San Francisco."
Slightly more than half of San Francisco's ninth- and 11th-graders (52 percent) say they feel "connected to an adult."
That's the lowest rate in the state, although students in about two-thirds of California counties feel almost as disconnected.
Feelings of safety also plunge when students reach high school.
In San Francisco, just a third of teenagers say they feel safe in school, compared with more than two-thirds in the younger grades. Similar trends show up in every Bay Area county and in most across the state.
"We're taking this quite seriously," said Trish Bascom, an associate superintendent in the San Francisco Unified School District who oversees health services. "We know that the strongest markers for success in school and life are caring relationships, high expectations from adults, and opportunities for meaningful participation in the community."
Bascom said the district began tracking students' emotional well-being two years ago and has discovered an alarming increase in students considering and planning suicide.
For the first time this year, she said, every city school is offering mental health services, supplemented by 50 mental-health interns who visit students who need them. Each high school also has a wellness center for the first time this year. Teachers - including those in high school - have been told to make students feel good about coming to school and even welcome them to class.
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