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Study Urges Extra Help for County's Preschoolers


Many more government and private resources should be focused on preschool-age children in Los Angeles County if they are to grow up and escape the poverty that many now endure, according to a report to be released today by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The study, "From Cradle to K: Ensuring Success by Six for All L.A. Children," analyzes birth trends, family life, and health, safety, child care and school-readiness issues affecting the 900,000 children under age 6 who live in Los Angeles County.

While noting some progress, the report documents formidable barriers to the well-being of many children and their families. Key findings include:

* 28% of the county's children under 6 live in poverty, the highest such rate in California and a major predictor of school failure.

* 36% of new mothers in the county have less than a high school education, another predictor of academic trouble for their children.

* 50% of kindergartners do not speak English, putting them at immediate disadvantage.

* 60% of preschool children are cared for by someone other than a parent, yet there are minimal educational requirements for preschool teachers and no education is required for licensed family child care providers or for care by a relative or a nanny.

There was some good news. Health care for young children in the county is improving, with lower infant death rates, rising immunization levels and fewer fatal auto accidents, according to the report. Still, nearly a quarter of children under 6 are not covered by health insurance, and as many as 300,000 preschoolers have untreated tooth decay that can lead to more serious health problems.

The United Way study cites research findings that 90% of a child's brain development and the emotional foundation needed to form healthy relationships are established by age 3.

"What we're trying to say with this new information is that we have to spend more time thinking about how we deal with younger children before they even get to school," said Joseph Haggerty, president of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

"We have to better train people who care for young children," he said. "And, as parents, we have to educate ourselves about how to stimulate their development."

The report will be released at a forum hosted by the Los Angeles Times. Speakers will include Sharon Davis, wife of Gov. Gray Davis, and Police Chief Bernard C. Parks.

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