Nearly 3 in 4 young children in California are screened for age-appropriate development

Despite gains, data from UCLA CHPR’s California Health Interview Survey show disparities in screening rates for children ages 1 to 5 across various groups

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UCLA CHPR Communications Team

According to a new policy brief published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR), developmental assessments for young children ages 1 through 5 increased from 2007 through 2018. Whether health care providers asked parents about developmental concerns also increased.

The study, funded by First 5 California, used data from UCLA CHPR’s California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). Findings showed a significant increase from 2007 to 2018 — 72% of California parents reported that their child was assessed for possible developmental delays in 2018 compared to 29.5% in 2007, and 64.3% of parents stated that a doctor or other professional asked if they had concerns about their children’s learning, development, or behavior in 2018 compared to 47.2% in 2007.

“The study’s findings show promising improvements in developmental screening rates in the state over the past several years, but more work must be done to increase access among at-risk communities,” said Camille Maben, Executive Director of First 5 California. “Findings from this report identify opportunities for outreach to health care and preschool settings to boost screening rates across California. Improved screening rates will support better health outcomes for all young children.”

The brief looked at the prevalence of screenings across demographic characteristics, and found differences by household income, insurance type, parental education, as well as race and ethnicity.

  • Parents were more likely to report that their children received developmental screenings and were asked about developmental concerns if they had higher household incomes, employment-based insurance, a usual source of medical care, higher educational levels, spoke only English at home, and identified race/ethnicity as non-Hispanic White.​
  • By contrast, low rates of screening were found for families with Medi-Cal insurance, without a usual source of medical care, with incomes less than 300% of federal poverty level, educational attainment of a High School diploma or less, reported race/ethnicity of Hispanic or African American, and dual language learner children in the home. Parents identifying as Asian also reported less frequently being asked about developmental concerns.

The brief cites support for universal developmental surveillance and screening as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and for future research to help identify more barriers to assessment.

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The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR) is one of the nation’s leading health policy research centers and the premier source of health policy information for California. UCLA CHPR improves the public’s health through high quality, objective, and evidence-based research and data that informs effective policymaking. It is the home of the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) and is part of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

First 5 California is dedicated to improving the lives of California’s young children and their families through a comprehensive system of education, health services, childcare, and other crucial programs.

The Public Health Institute generates and promotes research, leadership and partnerships to build capacity for strong public health policy, programs, systems and practices.

Note: This study and findings reflect data collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.