The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 7, 2014

My Turn: We cannot afford to cut child services

— “The needs of children shall not be made to wait. We can say with some assurance that, although children may be victims of fate, they will not be the victims of our neglect.” — President John Kennedy

On one day in America:

1 mother dies in childbirth;

76 babies die before their first birthday;

390 babies are born to mothers who received little or no prenatal care;

860 babies are born at low birthweights;

1,186 babies are born to teen mothers;

1,707 babies are born without health insurance;

2,171 babies are born into poverty;

2,341 babies are born to mothers who are not high school graduates;

3,472 babies are born to unmarried mothers.

Unfortunately, JFK was wrong. One quarter of our children at any age are living in poverty. This is a rate two to three times higher than that of other major industrial nations. Poverty is a major determinant of health and a significant factor in perpetuating health disparities. Poverty has many faces; from hunger to homelessness to hopelessness. Furthermore, we know that poverty in childhood has a long and lasting impact on the child well into adulthood by creating toxic stress on the developing child. That toxic stress can cause a myriad of long term physical and mental health problems. Poverty is also strongly linked with child neglect which constitutes 75 percent of the cases of child maltreatment in America.

There has been federal abandonment of our children. More than $50 million in Maternal and Child Health block grant cuts have occurred. These grants supported state-based prenatal care programs and services for children with special needs. The National Institute of Health’s program for preventing preterm births was decreased by $1 billion. Furthermore, the Center for Disease Control’s program for preventing health problems including preterm births was diminished by $1 billion. Significant cuts ($8.6 billion over 10 years) in the food stamp program recently occurred. Neglected healthcare in America is not rare, and if access to health care and health insurance is a basic need in the United States today, 8.7 million (11.7 percent) children experience this form of neglect yearly. Neglected dental care is widespread. A study of preschoolers found that 49 percent of 4-year-olds had cavities and fewer than 10 percent were treated. Another study found that 8.6 percent of kindergarteners needed urgent dental care.

Why is it important for government to establish a favorable environment for Wall Street while government does little to establish a favorable environment for our children?

Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has research showing early nurturing, learning experiences and physical health from birth to 5 greatly impact success or failure in society. The most economically efficient time to develop skills and social abilities is in the very early years when developmental education is most effective. According to Dr. Heckman, disadvantaged families are least likely to have the economic and social resources to provide early developmental stimulation every child needs as a basic opportunity for future success in school, college, career and life. Therefore, it is important to invest in educational and developmental resources for disadvantaged families to provide equal access to successful early human development.  Unfortunately, there is very little public spending when brain growth is highest (birth to age 3).  

The rising child poverty rate and the substantial cuts to important programs are an indictment of America. We are marching in the wrong direction. We cannot continue to cut essential services for children and families and remain a strong nation.

Pat Bruno, M.D., of Selinsgrove, specializes in recognition of child abuse.


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