If anyone ever said caring for kids is easy they either 1) weren’t a parent or 2) weren’t a pediatrician.
One of the things that is clear here at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition at the Washington, D.C. convention center, is there are numerous challenges today facing kids — and the people who take care of them. It’s not just the things a medical audience normally thinks about: It’s things like exposure to violence and living in poverty.
This morning, the packed ballroom heard Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States, gave a call to arms to combat the violence that is affecting our children. With statistics and stories, it was a chilling reminder that brought tears to the eyes of more than one of the crowd.
“Violence affects the brain as much as it does the body,” Holder said, telling the pediatricians they needed to be trained and encouraged to spot the signs of exposure to violence, either in kids’ homes, their neighborhoods or their schools.
Two weeks ago, the Department of Justice released a study that showed 60 percent of children in this great nation of ours were exposed to violence last year. And of those, 50 percent were assaulted. Holder called this a national disease that must be addressed.
For help, he referred the doctors and other caregivers to the Safe Start Center, which is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. There are publications, checklists, tips sheets and more. Check it out.
The day before holder took the stage, it was Marian Wright-Edelman’s turn. When she founded the Children’s Defense Fund, in part borne out of the despair she found on urban streets in the wake of the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. 41 years ago, she sure didn’t think it was going to be her life’s work. But the scourge of poverty and violence against children continues.
“I thought we’d be out of business by now,” she said to a smattering of nervous laughter. “We have sent too many children out into the sea of life in leaking boats. I hope God will forgive us and I hope our children will forgive us.”
She said a child is born into poverty every 30 seconds; one drops out of school every 10 seconds; and one is born without health insurance every 39 seconds.
The knowledge to solve the problems, and the tools to do the work, exist, she says. It is simply a matter or priorities. Sure it will cost some bucks, but Wright-Edelman contends there is no money problem in the United States.
“They can find the money the same place they found the $1 trillion in two weeks to bail out the bankers,” she said. “If we can find the money to prosecute wars, we can find the money to keep our children alive.”
There’s a lot of work to do on the poverty and violence fronts. And the doctors here (and elsewhere) already are plenty busy. But the ones I talked to after Holder’s speech in particular seemed rallied to the cause. Let’s hope that carries over once they get back to their homes later this week, where the real work happpens.