Risk factors for mortality of young children with cerebral palsy were studied using a sample of 12,709 children aged 0.5-3.5 years with cerebral palsy who had received services from the State of California between 1980 and 1995. The most powerful prognostic factors for survival were simple functional items: mobility and feeding skills. Once these were known, factors such as severity of mental retardation and presence of quadriplegia contributed relatively little. Children with fair motor and eating skills had good survival prospects, with 90% or more reaching adulthood, but those without such skills had much poorer prospects. Among children who were unable to lift their heads, median survival time was 7 additional years for those who were tube fed (n = 557) and 14 years for those fed entirely by others (n = 997). Although a child's approximate survival chances can be assessed from such functional classifications, we indicate the manner in which additional information on the child's condition can be used to obtain more accurate survival data.