According to The American Pediatric Association’s Task Force on Child Poverty, one in five children live below the federal poverty level, and in addition to being an economic strain on families it’s also "the most important problem facing children in the US today.”
The risk factors are staggering. They include increased infant mortality, higher instances of low birth weight, with their accompanying development problems, frequency of chronic diseases like asthma, poorer access to quality care of all kinds (including dental), not to mention “a significant health burden in adulthood that is independent of adult level risk factors and is associated with low birth weight and increased exposure to toxic stress.”
The report notes that while the United States has programs like Child Health Plus and Medicaid to reduce costs for poor families, and advocacy on individual health issues, there is no consistent, unified pediatric voice to advocate for low-income children and speak out about childhood poverty.
As the Center for Law and Social Policy points out in their commentary on the Task Force’s report, it was a massive public health effort whose programs reached into communities of all incomes that helped eradicate polio for the US by 1979.
CLASP asks “what if we tackled child poverty with the same determination and commitment that we put into eliminating polio?” How can we create that kind of massive, coordinated effort to eradicate child poverty in the same way we’ve done in the past for infectious diseases?
Fortunately, the APA Task Force on Child Poverty provides a road map. While, as CLASP notes, there’s no vaccine to prevent child poverty, there are steps we can take to address it, on top of programs like Medicaid and CHIP.
They are outlined in APA’s Strategic Road Map and includes Policy and Advocacy Work, Health Care Delivery Systems, Research and Education. Policy and advocacy ideas include monetary supports for parents like raising the minimum wage, as well as funding for TANF and the EITC. Providing high quality early childhood programs and affordable care to low-income families.
In terms of delivery as well as education, it means having a more place-based approach to health care, targeting the low income communities that need it the most through extensive research, and understanding what, aside from lack of funds, prevents families in these communities from accessing health care when it is available. Is it cultural or social? Do they simply not have time to go to the doctor, and how can organizations make this easier?
It means implementing more options for home-based care delivery, and coordination with local social service organizations and clinics that might already have the on the ground knowledge of the communities they intend to serve.
The APA also wants to start a White House Conference on Children and Youth to draw attention to the needs of America’s low income population and determine how to build public support for further investments.