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California and the West

State Rated as One of Worst for Children

Families: Advocacy group's report blames California's juvenile arrests and poverty levels, but some experts question methodology. Maine is ranked as the best.

July 28, 1999|STEPHEN FUZESI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — California ranks as one of the worst places in the United States to raise a family and Maine is the best, according to a study released Tuesday by a children's advocacy group.

The report by the Children's Rights Council, which was immediately challenged by some experts, used 10 indicators, ranging from the child death rate to the percentage of births to teenagers to determine its rankings.

In listing California 46th, council officials said that particularly high rates of child poverty and juvenile arrests worked against the state.

But some experts quickly raised objections to the study's methodology, contending that it did not present a full picture because it ignored such important factors as education quality and job availability.

Officials of the council--which focuses most of its work on helping children with divorced, separated or unwed parents--conceded that their rankings are only one way to assess a state's ability to aid children.

"There are many reasons for living where you are--jobs, family, friends," said David L. Levy, the organization's president.

Jorja Prover, a professor at UCLA's School of Public Policy and Social Research, assailed the survey for ignoring California's system of services for children, such as independent living opportunities for adolescents.

"I am floored by the outcome of this study," Prover said. She added that more data should be examined before generalizations about a state are made.

California officials declined comment on the study, which draws on statistics on child abuse, infant mortality and divorce rates, among others. The information was gleaned from a variety of government reports and research by nonprofit groups.

Council officials said the goal in issuing its ranking was to prod states to improve their services for children, not to tell parents where to move.

"We seek to instill a sense of friendly competition among the states--friendly competition to do better for our children," Levy said.

True to that spirit, members of Maine's congressional delegation joined its governor, Angus King, at a Capitol Hill news conference to tout their top ranking.

"It simply tells the country something that we've known for a long time," King, who is politically independent, said with a wide grin.

In order below Maine at the top of the rankings were four other New England states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Ranking below California on the list, in order: Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.

California's ranking was its lowest since the council began issuing its annual reports in 1995. The state ranked 32nd last year, but council officials cautioned that the drop might have been triggered by changes in the criteria rather than worsening conditions.

Joyce Johnson, spokeswoman for the Child Welfare League of America, said her advocacy organization avoids comparing states in its studies because of stark differences in both demographics and data collection among states.

"I guess that makes us a little leery" of surveys, Johnson said.

Andrew Bridge, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Alliance for Children's Rights, said California's results did not surprise him, given the rates of poverty his group encounters in the state's inner cities.

Even if more factors were added to the survey that buoyed the state's ranking, Bridge said, "the fact would still remain that over one-third of all . . . children [in Los Angeles County] live in poverty."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

How States Ranked

The Children's Rights Council's listing, from best to worst:

1. Maine

2. Massachusetts

3. Connecticut

4. Vermont

5. New Hampshire

6. North Dakota

7. Maryland

8. Kansas

9. Wisconsin

10. Iowa

11. Minnesota

12. Rhode Island

13. Hawaii

14. Alaska

15. Nebraska

16. Pennsylvania

17. New Jersey

18. Washington

19. North Carolina

20. Delaware

21. Colorado

22. Utah

23. Virginia

24. Missouri

25. Michigan

26. Wyoming

27. South Dakota

28. Georgia

29. Ohio

30. Montana

31. Alabama

32. West Virginia

33. Illinois

34. New York

35. Kentucky

36. Florida

37. Indiana

38. Tennessee

39. South Carolina

40. Oregon

41. Idaho

42. Mississippi

43. Arkansas

44. Nevada

45. Oklahoma

46. California

47. Arizona

48. Texas

49. New Mexico

50. Louisiana

51. Washington, D.C.

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