A study by the Central California Children’s Institute at California State University, Fresno concludes that a child’s relationship with its parents is the paramount concern about San Joaquin Valley youngsters.

Conclusions and recommendations of “Children of the Valley: Framing a Regional Agenda” are based on 1,201 telephone-survey responses and interviews, focus groups and roundtable discussions with child-serving organizations and their representatives.

“The parent-child relationship and the family system are the core issues that determine the paths that youth ultimately take,” the study concludes.

Poverty in the region plays a key role, say the study’s authors.

“The trajectories that often accompany poverty – teen pregnancy, gang involvement, high school dropout rates and lone-parent households – converge to produce a region that is fraught with challenges to the health and well-being of its young,” according to the report.

“Children of the Valley” recommends greater coordination and collaboration among institutions and organizations that touch the lives of children to mount a sharply focused, Valleywide response to the most pressing challenges.

The study, whose conclusions were released Tuesday, Jan. 19, to the institute’s Regional Leadership team of health and human service professionals, was conducted in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties.

Other key findings:

  • At least half of San Joaquin Valley residents believe their communities don’t offer adequate community service opportunities for youth, provide useful roles for youth or neighbors that care, or assume responsibility for children.
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents volunteer to help youth in their community, and 92 percent of those not volunteering said they would, if given the opportunity.
  • Families expressed a high level of need for sports and recreation, after-school and preschool programs.

In the study, health and human service professionals offer three key recommendations how the region should address challenges facing children and families:

  • Start young, when families are most receptive to help and may be easier to reach, and while children are in their formative years.
  • Help parents, who are a child’s first teacher, but who need information, tools and encouragement to effectively promote child well-being.
  • Focus on policy advocacy, improved systems and collaboration among agencies so there is a unified voice, supportive policies and people working together throughout the region to help solve problems facing families.

The study recommends that the Children’s Institute put early psychosocial and emotional health, youth social behaviors, parent engagement and support and childhood poverty at the top of its priority list for action. Those issues will guide the institute as it convenes regional leaders during the next year to produce the Valley’s first regional children’s agenda.

One goal is to expand the region’s capacity to better prepare professionals working with newborns to 5-year-olds and their parents as a primary prevention strategy.

Lead authors are Dr. Cassandra L. Joubert, director of the Central California Children’s Institute, Children’s Institute fellows and Fresno State professors Dr. Jason C. Immekus (Kremen School of Education and Human Development), Dr. Lara M. Triona (College of Science and Mathematics) and Dr. Bridget Conlon (College of Social Sciences).

The research and report were made possible in part by The California Endowment’s financial support with technical assistance from the Central Valley Health Policy Institute.

For additional information, contact Dr. Cassandra Joubert at 559.408.4714.

The study is available online at www.centralcaliforniachildren.org.

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