Apr
19
2016

Poverty and child well being – how you can help!

In early 2016,  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)  recommended that all pediatricians screen for poverty in children, hoping to reduce the toxic effects of poverty on children’s health.  AAP researchers produced a policy brief that is a must-read for any student of health, economics or public policy, but it contains important lessons for all of us.

 Poverty weighs on parents in ways both subtle and obvious. For example, a Yale study found that low income mothers who could not afford diapers are more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety interfere with the ability to respond emotionally to a baby and such response is a most critical role of a parent to help promote early brain development. Poor nutrition, substandard housing, and living in a high-crime neighborhood – all side effects of poverty – place burdens on a child’s physical and mental health.

More than a quarter of the population of Philadelphia, including one-third of all children, live below the poverty level, and Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate among the nation’s 10 largest cities.  Poverty is not always obvious; the economic downturn of recent years has brought poverty to suburbia in unprecedented numbers.

While the AAP recommends specific screening tools for pediatricians to use in their practices, each of us can look closely to see where we might lend a hand. Decades ago, if a neighbor noticed a hungry family, she might send over a casserole; now, too often the temptation is to call Child Protective Services and report neglect. It’s time to reverse that practice. Each of us can offer compassionate and dignified support to a friend, neighbor, or relative who may need it. A meal, a week’s worth of groceries, a carton of diapers now and then can make a difference to a family.

Years ago when my son was around 12-years-old and I was a divorced grad student, my son spent an afternoon at the home of a friend. When I went to pick him up, I learned that he had enthusiastically eaten anything and everything the hostess Mom offered. Hostess Mom gently suggested that if there wasn’t enough food in my house, she’d be happy to send an extra lunch to school each day with her son for mine. She didn’t know that I had good job, and my son was just being a voracious pre-teen, but her concern, compassion, and tact could be a model for anyone. If being that personal doesn’t suit your style, support efforts of your religious community or local anti-poverty organizations who share the mission of alleviating the effects of poverty on a child’s development.

Some pediatricians may respond to the AAP’s recommendation by noting how little time they already have to spend with patients and the increasing demands placed on their practices. Perhaps as the health insurance industry recognizes the toxic, long term effects of poverty on child health poverty screening will be come as routine as vison and hearing screening.

In the meantime, “screen” the children and families in your life to see where you can help. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, the perfect time to ask yourself what else you can do to support the great childhoods all children deserve.

Rosenzweig is also author of The Sex-Wise Parent and The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children. For more information, read her blog  and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.

 

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/How-we-all-can-fight-the-effects-of-poverty.html#RjmKYU0VMdMyRR8P.99

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