Report: OC Kids Fatter, More Likely to be a Hoodlum

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The number of Orange County children living below the poverty level is down and their test scores are up, but more are living in obesity, illegally consuming alcohol and narcotics, willing to join criminal street gangs and relying on government-sponsored free or reduced school lunch programs.

In Santa Ana, for example, a whopping 84 percent of students participate in the free lunch program.

All that's according to "The 16th Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County," which an official from Cal State Fullerton presented this morning to the local Children & Families Commission.

The massive 204-page report compares statistical trends over various years and outlines "the good news" as well as the bad news, which the study's authors decided to call, "conditions needing improvement."

One figure especially delighted Michael L. Riley, director of the county's Social Services Agency: even though the number of child abuse reports has remained relatively steady at about 37,000 to 38,000 annually, the number of kids who've been removed from their homes by the courts is at an all time low. In 1999/2000, more than 5,000 kids were living under government supervision. Today, according to Riley, that number has drastically fallen to about 2,800.

"We're doing better prevention . . . We are very judicious [about taking kids from their families]," Riley said during today's hearing. "We are only taking very high risk children. It's been a huge cost savings for the county and it's better for the kids."

Other findings include:

--Tustin spends the least per student, $7,300 annually; Laguna Beach spends the most, $12,800. (The national average is $10,259.)
--Teen pregnancies dropped slightly from 1999 to 2008. Asian teen pregnancies dropped 65.8 percent while Latino females under 19 accounted for more than 85 percent of local teen births. (Note: Only 50 percent of teen pregnancies in California result in a birth; 36 percent end in an abortion and 14 percent in a miscarriage.)
--In 2009, 780 kids between 10 and 17 caught a sexually transmitted disease.
--The number of kids ages 8 to 17 known to be active gang members (1,851) more than doubled from 2000 to 2009; Latino kids represent 87 percent of the total.
--During that same period, the number of kids receiving substance abuse services has increased by 348 percent from 2,396 to 10,726.
--More than 22 percent of low income family kids age 5 to 11 are obese.
--The portion of county students receiving free school lunches was 44 percent in 2009, up from 37 percent from 2001.
--Juvenile mothers under the influence of illegal substances gave birth to 81 kids in 2008-2009, a period that saw 202 infants here die before their first birthday.
--In 2008, only 34.5 percent of fifth graders could pass all minimum physical fitness standards.
--While juvenile arrests have dropped significantly since 1999, the latest number (14,927) is up from 2003-2006.

The local Children & Families Commission--chaired by Supervisor Bill Campbell--has spent more than $57.6 million this year (through Halloween) from state tobacco sales tax revenues.

--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
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