By Glenn Ellis
“All my life America has taught me to raise the children and save America. Now, we’re talking about saving the children, and raising America.”
A few hours before I began writing this column last week, the United States House of Representatives voted to pass a $4.5 billion supplemental border funding bill. The bill is intended to provide resources to address the rapidly deteriorating conditions, particularly for immigrant children at the Mexico border.
Admittedly, the news came with a mix-reaction from me. Having just returned from, of all things, a national health disparities conference in Oakland, California.
Witnessing some of the most visible, deplorable, inhumane examples of homelessness in the nation, I could not help but wonder how we could be a nation that would tolerate such a human atrocity.
As I looked at the hundreds and hundreds of homeless adults living on the streets, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “where are their children?”
While it is commendable that the legislators had the decency to provide this much needed help to the children languishing in facilities that are, in some cases, holding four-times their capacity; the long road to the desk of the President, must go through a Republican-controlled Senate.
But a larger question lingers. What about those children who are “languishing” within the borders of the United States?
Gentrification; incarcerated parents; foster care; and a host of other social ills are plaguing millions of American children; mostly black and brown ones.
In 2005, an estimated 1.5 million people from Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana fled their homes in the face of Katrina. Roughly 40 percent of the people who left, particularly those from Louisiana, were not able to return to their pre-Katrina homes. Many “Katrina” children experienced a great deal of stress as a result of the hurricane. Most had been displaced by the hurricane, had seen their neighborhood destroyed or damaged, and had lost personal belongings. In addition, around a third had been separated from a caregiver and/or a pet during the storm or evacuation. Children also reported, to a lesser extent, seeing family members or friends injured or killed. Half of the children experienced high levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) carried out a study using U.S. Census data to look at displacement of minority communities as a result of displacement. Neighborhoods experience gentrification when an influx of investment and changes to the built environment leads to rising home values, family incomes and educational levels of residents. Cultural displacement occurs when minority areas see a rapid decline in their numbers as affluent, white gentrifiers replace the incumbent residents.
The study found that more than 20,000 black residents of Washington, D.C., nearly 15,000 in New York City and 12,000 in Philadelphia moved out of gentrifying neighborhoods. Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia were notable for their high levels of black displacement, while Denver and Austin had high levels of Hispanic displacement.
The Economic Policy Institute, in its research, found that as many as one in 10 African American students has an incarcerated parent. One in four has a parent who is or has been incarcerated. The discriminatory incarceration of African American parents is an important cause of their children’s lowered performance.
An African American child is six times as likely as a white child to have or have had an incarcerated parent. A growing share of African Americans have been arrested for drug crimes, yet African Americans are no more likely than whites to sell or use drugs. Not only are these children found to have significant behavior problems in school, they also suffer, disproportionately, from migraines, asthma, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and homelessness.
This is especially true for adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 14 with a mother behind bars. Such boys are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, and they are 55 percent more likely to drop out of school because they themselves have been incarcerated. This impact is not only the result of mothers being incarcerated, but it is associated with the incarceration of black fathers. Children with incarcerated parents are 33 percent more likely to have speech or language problems – like stuttering or stammering – than otherwise similar children whose fathers have not been incarcerated.
Another important topic to look at is foster care. According to the most recent federal data, there are currently more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. They range in age from infants to 21 years old (in some states). The average age of a child in foster care is more than 8 years old, and there are slightly more boys than girls. Black and brown children in foster care make up 23 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
Then, there is hunger. According to the USDA, more than 41 million Americans face hunger, more than 12 million children in the United States live in “food insecure” homes. Sadly, six out of seven hungry kids don’t get the summer meals they need. The groups experiencing the highest rates of food insecurity include households with children led by single women.
This is just scratching the surface. I didn’t get to lead poisoning, gun violence, suicide, or a number of other things.
Let’s save ALL the children… .
Glenn Ellis, is Research Bioethics Fellow at Harvard Medical School and author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. Listen to Glenn, on radio in Birmingham or V94.9, Sundays at 7:50pm, or visit: www.glennellis.com.