Monday, January 26, 2009

Hunger, Housing, Homelessness and Hope: Advocating for Children at the State Level

First, for all you who have been watching the stigmatization of mental illness play out against the Iraq War, I commend you to this excellent Op-Ed piece in Monday's New York Times.  I think that author is right on the mark, although I think that the medal for soldiers affected by PTSD should be a broken heart, rather than a black one.
Mental health in adults clearly results in homelessness, hunger and housing problems;  any program that mitigates these risk factors is likely to impact the mental health of children.  Health Care for All organized a wonderful session at the Statehouse, laying out the arguments for mitigating the impact of poverty on children.  We heard how hunger is linked to school failure; we heard how homelessness makes education nearly impossible.  "Hunger is written on children's bodies, minds and spirit" says Deborah Frank, a researcher at Boston University whose work has been seminal to our understanding of the relationship between food policy and children's health.  We heard the stories to illustrate these points:  the child who changed school as his housing changed, the child who was hospitalized after the child couldn't feed him enough, the child who binges on junk food because it is quick and accessible and she is hungry-  there isn't any healthy  food in the larder.  The assembled Food Banks and Homeless advocates and the Children's Health Action Council have an agenda, but the key to that agenda is to recognize that all of this stuff hangs together in a way;  to cut one piece is to cut all of them.  In the words of Benjamin Franklin, we must all hang together or we should certainly all hang separately.

So what legislation is this unlikely band of brothers and sisters promoting to maintain and improve the health of children in the Commonwealth?  Many things:

Preserving the funding in the current budget:
- Early Intervention (Line-Item 4513-1020), Healthy Start (LI-4000-0895),  Children's Medical Security Plan (LI-4000-0990), and Enrollment Outreach (LI 4000-0352)
-Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (LI-7004-9024) and Get the Lead Out (LI-7004-1966
-Hunger Prevention (44000-1001), School Breakfast and Summer Food (LI-7053-1925), WIC (4513-1002) and Emergency Food Assistance (LI-2511-0105)
Add new legal protections:
-An Act to Assure Continuity of Health Coverage
-An Act to Ensure Equitable Health Coverage for All Children.
-An Act Ensuring Access to the Health Care for Children and Young Adults
-An Act to Prevent Homelessness Among Recipients of Transitional Assistance
Of course, I would add two others:
-An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Childhood Vaccines Program
-An Act Relative to Coordination of Children's Mental Health Care

I will get the Bill Numbers and links to the text once they are posted.  So, there you have the tasks before us.  Got a lot of work to do, to ensure that children are cared for.

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