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Children Fare Poorly in Study : Health: L.A. County youths are more likely to be poor, drop out of school and die by gunfire than elsewhere in the state, group’s report finds.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Los Angeles County ranks as one of the most perilous places in the state for children, according to a report on child health and welfare scheduled for release today.

In news that comes as little surprise to those who monitor such trends, children here are more likely to drop out of school and die by gunshot than elsewhere in the state, according to Children Now, a nonprofit group that publishes an annual compendium of such statistics.

Children Now’s fifth annual county-by-county study, described in a 155-page report, paints a bleak picture for children statewide and warns of the impact of proposed federal welfare and social service reform measures.

“These are trends that were loud and clear in the 1980s,” said Lois Salisbury, Children Now executive director. “They reflect the continued disinvestment in youth. We are paying the piper.”

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Although complicated by many factors--including demographics, economics and values--the trend in child welfare benchmarks correlates with cuts in public funding, according to Children Now.

A decade ago, Salisbury noted, the state spent more than twice as much money on education than it did on its penal system. Today, those levels are even, she said. Nineteen prisons and one state university were built in that time, she said.

Los Angeles County did not rank at the absolute bottom in any category except homicides and dropout rates--but it hovered near the bottom of most measures.

Although the county contains about a quarter of the state’s children and teen-agers, it accounted for more than half of all recorded gun death victims through age 19, according to the report. Of the 2,027 homicides in that age group, 1,179 were in Los Angeles County, which also accounted for 4,281 of the state’s 6,835 gun injuries from 1991 to 1993, the last year for which reliable statistics were available.

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“These are all performance indicators, not volume,” Salisbury said. “So it’s not a function of [the county’s] size.”

Of the state’s 58 counties, Los Angeles had the 13th worst rate of child abuse, with Alpine County logging the highest rate. Imperial County had the lowest rate of child abuse, followed by Napa, Solano and Marin counties.

Homicide was by far the leading cause of preventable death to children and teen-agers, surpassing the combined total of the other leading causes--motor vehicle accidents, suicides and drownings.

This year’s report drew special attention to young victims of violence and to teen-age pregnancy, particularly the number of births to teen-age girls that were fathered by men over the age of 19. It said 67% of all teen pregnancies involved adult fathers, a fact that Salisbury said is often unnoticed in discussions that focus on the mother.

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County health officials had not seen the report and were not available for comment. But Susan D. Einbinder, a University of Southern California assistant professor who has studied child welfare issues, expressed little surprise at the data.

“I think it is becoming increasingly dangerous to be a child in America,” Einbinder said.

For all its bleak observations, the report shows that Los Angeles County performed well in two key areas. Despite having the highest dropout rate--marginally worse than San Francisco and Kern counties--Los Angeles did better than most in the percentage of its high school graduates who are adequately prepared for college (36%).

The county also scored well with a low percentage of births in which there was little or no prenatal care (4.5%). The percentage of births to women who got little or no prenatal care dropped almost two percentage points from 1990 to 1993.

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“We know that Los Angeles has made a vigorous effort to get women into prenatal care, even despite all the cutbacks,” Salisbury said.

Today’s report was not timed to coincide with upcoming congressional debates on welfare, according to Children Now. But the group hopes the data influence decisions that, in most versions of reform bills, will increasingly occur on a local level.

“These data are a snapshot,” Salisbury said. “But they also are a benchmark. Everyone will have to reckon with the statistics . . . as to whether their decisions will make the situation better or worse.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Youth in Peril

A child welfare report released today shows that Los Angeles County continues to record high numbers of gun injuries and deaths among children and teen-agers. Child abuse cases appear to have leveled off after a sharp increase, while the teen-age birth rate remaines well above the state average.

TEEN BIRTHS, 1993 White:

Number: 2,106

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* Rate: 29 African American:

Number: 3,005

Rate: 97 Latino:

Number: 16,993

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Rate: 114 Asian/Other:

Number: 524

Rate: 16 Total:

Number: 22,628

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Rate: 80 * Teen-agers ages 15 to 19 per 1,000 females; the state average is 70.

Source: Children Now *

CHILD ABUSE

To age 19, 1994: 164,716 *

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GUN VIOLENCE

1993 gun deaths:

Homicides: 372

Suicides: 55

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Accidents: 14


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