Children’s Health

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Half of California’s Children Now Covered by Medi-Cal

Sarah Boone, a behavior analyst with the social services agency EMQ FamiliesFirst, evaluates Ernesto Santiago, 6, of San Jose for autism therapy services. (Barbara Feder Ostrov/Kaiser Health News)

Sarah Boone, a behavior analyst with the social services agency EMQ FamiliesFirst, evaluates Ernesto Santiago, 6, of San Jose for autism therapy services. (Barbara Feder Ostrov/Kaiser Health News)

By Barbara Feder Ostrov, Kaiser Health News

California’s Medi-Cal program has grown to cover nearly half of the state’s children, causing policymakers and child advocates to question the ability of the taxpayer-funded program to adequately serve so many poor kids.

In the past two years alone, the program has added nearly 1 million young people up to age 20, including those newly eligible for Medi-Cal coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The increase brings the total number of young people on Medi-Cal to 5.2 million, more than ever before.

Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid and the largest program of its kind in the nation.

Many pediatricians and specialists already refuse to accept new Medi-Cal patients, at least in part because the program offers among the lowest payment rates in the country. New rate cuts took effect this January. Health care advocates say adding more children to the mix will only worsen the likelihood of timely treatment. Continue reading

Call the Midwife: A Home Birth Story

The author's wife, Pippa, and their daughter, Caitlin, who was born at home, in 1982. (Courtesy: Nick Allen)

The author’s wife, Pippa, and their daughter, Caitlin, who was born at home, in 1982. (Courtesy: Nick Allen)

By Stephen Talbot

My wife, Pippa, gave birth like a giraffe, standing up.

I was astonished. This wasn’t quite the nativity scene I’d imagined. Then again, I should not have been too shocked. Pippa grew up in South Africa, she’s very keen on giraffes, and she likes doing things unconventionally.

I should also mention that this was happening at home, in our bedroom, in the middle of the night, and that no one else was around. Except for our two-year-old son asleep in another room.

Not to worry. Women have been giving birth in their homes, in their own fashion, for centuries, right? Well, actually, not so much these days, at least not in this country. A mere 1.36 percent of births in the United States in 2012 took place outside a hospital. Continue reading

Children Need Rest After A Concussion, But How Much?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Liza Gross

Every parent must balance the thrill of watching a child excel at a favorite sport with the fear that competition brings the risk of serious injury. That fear gripped my sister last year, when my nephew, then 10-years-old, played back-to-back soccer games against two rough teams.

Strict rest seemed to provide no additional benefit and even had some unintended consequences.

After a solid blow sent him tumbling to the ground in the first game, he took several hard hits in the second, including a nasty elbow to the back of the head as he tried to get up. Feeling dizzy, he raised his hand to leave the game, a first for him. He sat out the remainder of the game and felt lousy the rest the day.

Thankfully, my nephew quickly recovered without more serious symptoms. But each year over 173,000 children 19 and under suffer sports-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions.

Treating a concussion calls for resting body and mind until acute symptoms such as headache, dizziness and concentration troubles fade, and then allowing a gradual return to normal activities. Some children must avoid all activity — including computer time and even reading. Continue reading

Study Shows Childhood Trauma a ‘Hidden Crisis’ Across California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Sara Hossaini

A first-of-its kind report released Wednesday suggests Californians are facing a hidden public health crisis that stems from childhood trauma.

“People sometimes assume this is a low-income issue. This is everybody’s burden.”   

Researchers from the San Francisco-based Center for Youth Wellness and Public Health Institute in Oakland aim to shed light on how early adverse experiences, such as abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction — including divorce and parental incarceration — might impact a child’s health for a lifetime.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is a pediatrician and founder of the Center for Youth Wellness. She says the study looked at data from more than 27,000 surveys conducted by the California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System over four years between 2008 and 2013.  Continue reading

Portrait of Health, Well-Being in California’s Latino Children

(Seema Krishnakumar/Flickr)

(Seema Krishnakumar/Flickr)

Just over half of all children in California are Latino — that’s more than 4.7 million kids under age 18. In a major new analysis, researchers found a diverse picture of their health and well-being, not just when compared against white children, but also within the Latino population itself.

More than 94 percent of California’s Latino children were born in the U.S., and most of them were born in California.

Fewer Latino children overall achieve a minimum standard of basic health care or family and community environment when compared against white children, and children in households where Spanish is spoken at home have even lower rates. Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate at Son’s School is 32% — ‘Should I Freak Out?’

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

Statewide, there has been a dramatic increase in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. The rate of parents opting out by filing what’s called a “personal belief exemption,” or PBE, doubled over seven years.

Parents check a school’s test scores in advance. Why not vaccine rates?

Earlier this month, State of Health published a chart where people could look up any elementary school in California and see the PBE rate at their children’s schools.

Hours after we published, Cosmo Garvin of Sacramento sent me a tweet. “Really nice work,” the tweet said. “But just found out PBE rate at my kid’s school is 32 percent. Should I freak out?”

Thirty-two percent. That means one in three kids is not vaccinated.

Assessing Risk to Your Own Child Continue reading

Video: Why the New Autism Benefit Is So Important to Medi-Cal Families

Effective this week, Medi-Cal now covers a key autism therapy, and some 12,000 kids stand to benefit statewide. One of the children who will benefit is Timothy Wilson, a bubbly 6-year-old who will now be able to get Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for people who are low income. ABA is the clinical standard of care for autism.

Timothy was 2 when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “He didn’t say mama, didn’t say dada,” says his mother, Jazzmon Wilson. He threw tantrums and hardly made eye contact. “You just see all your dreams go by the wayside.”

The Wilsons enrolled him in the Regional Center of the East Bay, where children under 3 receive state-funded services. He began ABA therapy, which breaks down everyday skills into bite-sized, learnable portions, then uses repetition, memorization and rewards to reinforce or discourage behaviors. Parents learn to lead their child in the therapy as well. In the video, Jazzmon works with Timothy — or Bubba as she calls him. Seeing him now, it’s hard to believe how affected he was at a younger age. Continue reading

Is Corporal Punishment Abuse? Why That’s A Loaded Question

Adrian Peterson has been suspended from all Minnesota Vikings activities since he was indicted on child abuse charges. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Adrian Peterson has been suspended from all Minnesota Vikings activities since he was indicted on child abuse charges. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

By Gene Demby, NPR

Over the past week, Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings’ all-world running back and one of the NFL’s biggest stars, has become the face of corporal punishment in America. Peterson turned himself in to police over the weekend on charges of child abuse after he allegedly hit his son with a switch that left welts on his body.

Needless to say, people feel very differently about this subject. “I’m a black guy … I’m from the South,” Charles Barkley, the former NBA star, told a panel on CBS’ NFL Today. “Whipping — we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

Meanwhile, a visibly emotional Chris Carter, who once starred for the Vikings, argued on ESPN’s NFL Countdown that corporal discipline was outdated and wasn’t solely the province of black folks. “This goes across all racial lines, ethnicities, religious backgrounds,” Carter said. “People believe in disciplining their children. … It’s the 21st century. My mom was wrong. She did the best she could, but she was wrong about some of that stuff she taught me. And I promised my kids I won’t teach that mess to them. You can’t beat a kid to make them do what they wanna do.” Continue reading

Autism Benefit Finally a Reality for Children on Medi-Cal

Jazzmon Wilson with her son Timothy, 6, who has autism. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Jazzmon Wilson with her son Timothy, 6, who has autism and has benefited greatly, Wilson says, from Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, now covered by Medi-Cal. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

By David Gorn

California health officials Monday are launching a new benefit for thousands of children with autism who are covered by Medi-Cal, California’s low-income health program.

“He’s doing things other kids can do. And it’s those little moments, it makes you just so grateful.”

That makes California the first state in the nation to implement new federal standards on autism care.

The new benefit includes coverage of the clinical standard of care for autism treatment — Applied Behavior Analysis, also known as ABA therapy. That treatment has shown significant results for a cross-section of children with autism.

Of the 5 million children on Medi-Cal in California — that’s roughly half the state’s total children — there are an estimated 75,000  who likely have autism spectrum disorder. Of those children, experts expect about 12,000 children to access the new benefit, based on utilization figures from programs in other states. Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Doubled in 7 Years; Look Up Your School Online

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

California law requires that children entering kindergarten be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases. But despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, the rate of parents opting out of vaccines for their children has doubled since 2007.

To opt out, parents must file a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal beliefs. In the 2007-2008 school year, the statewide PBE rate was 1.56 percent. By 2013-2014, the most recent year statistics are available, the rate had jumped to 3.15 percent.

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PBE rates vary by county and by individual school. In the Bay Area, Marin has the highest PBE rate by far — 7.57 percent. (Marin was highest in the Bay Area last year too.) The PBE rate at private schools tends to be higher, overall, then that at public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 85 percent of private school kindergarten students statewide were fully vaccinated when school started, compared to about 90 percent of public school students. Other students enter on “conditional” status, meaning the school is to follow up with these children to make sure they receive all their vaccines.
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