Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
This is a guest post from Ann O’Leary, the director of the Children and Families Program at the Center for the Next Generation. The Center has launched a campaign called Too Small to Fail, a national movement to raise awareness about the state of America’s children and how the country can come together to create a stronger future for the next generation; we at Parents are one of its partners. O’Leary focused on the part of President Obama’s address that most directly impacts parents of young children: universal preschool.
Last night, President Obama began his State of the Union by harkening back to President John F. Kennedy’s declaration that it is the President’s task “to report the State of the Union – to improve it is the task of us all.” Top among the list of President Obama’s “unfinished tasks”: to make sure that our government works “to open the door of opportunity to every child across this great nation.”
President Obama’s plan to open these doors includes making “high-quality preschool available to every child in America.” If that happens, this could mean a brighter future for millions of children’s lives. Today, nearly 5 million children in the United States, or roughly 36 percent of all children ages 3 to 5, receive no form of early childhood education –- even when we know that’s one of the fundamental building blocks for success later in life. According to a RAND study: “Scientiﬁcally rigorous studies show that well-designed preschool programs serving 3- and 4-year-olds can improve school readiness and raise performance on academic achievement tests in the early elementary grades.”
Investing in preschool education also means great economic prosperity for our country. As Nobel Laureate James Heckman has outlined time and again, early childhood education gives back to society in real economic terms, with a “7 to 10 percent per year return on investment.” President Obama highlighted this research in his speech, noting, “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on –- by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.”
But the task of making high-quality preschool available to every child in America is not going to be easy. In 2011, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research, two-thirds of those states with state funded preschool programs made budget cuts to their preschool programs as states have felt the constraints of a weak economy. As the Center for American Progress outlined in their most recent proposal, it is going to take a partnership with federal and state investments leveraging local resources to truly create universal preschool and make sure that families’ income level is not the driving factor in deciding how much education their children can receive.
Despite the hard road to make these investments, they are critical to our future as an economic and global leader. Our competitors already have realized that investments in early learning are one of the keys to economic prosperity in the future.
In a study by the Center for the Next Generation and the Center for American progress called “The Competition that Really Matters,” we show that sustained competition from India and China are serious threats to our economic competitiveness. By 2020, China will provide 70 percent of all children with three years of early education and by 2030 China will have more college graduates than the entire American workforce.
I congratulate the President for making it clear that preschool for all should be a national priority. We need investments in early childhood education now; not only to nourish growing minds, but to set the foundations of a more efficient –- and internationally competitive –- economy for generations to come.
Photo: kindergarten, preschool classroom via Shutterstock.
Friday, February 8th, 2013
This week I attended an event put on by Sesame Street designed to spread the word about their newest goal, to help children affected by divorce. (That translates to 40 percent of all children, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.) This project, called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce” includes an impressive collection of resources, all of which are available to parents, caregivers, and educators, and of course the children themselves at sesamestreet.org/divorce. This includes:
- A book called Two-Hug Day, which is the very sweet way of helping a child frame the difficult transition that comes on the day he or she goes from one parent’s home to the other
- A series of Sesame Street videos primarily starring Abby Cadabby, whose parents are getting divorced
- A coloring book, including a page that illustrates all of the adults in Abby’s life who are there to support her
- Tips for friends and family on how to help children who are going through the challenges of separation and divorce (this is available in Spanish, too)
At this week’s event, a discussion with divorced parents (some as recently as months ago, some who’ve been divorced for 6 years), moms and dads very honestly shared their painful experiences. It hurt to hear one mom of three say, “Nothing could have prepared me for the road I’ve taken,” though she also pointed out that her family has come a long way since those hardest days. A dad of two children talked about how hard pickup and dropoff has been for his 5 1/2-year-old son: “He’d have an extremely wide and conflicting range of emotions,” he said. “He simply did not know what to do with himself.” My closest friend has recently gone through a divorce and her two children are trying very hard to navigate their way through their new family life, so this hit home for me. What was encouraging, though, was that most of the parents said that things really do get better; that they and their children have made real strides. They also agreed that a toolkit like the one Sesame Street has assembled is invaluable. If you’re going through a separation or divorce and want to find ways to help your child through it, please do check out sesamestreet.org/divorce.
Friday, January 18th, 2013
This guest post comes from our advisor Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, the co-author of several books including Baby 411, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
This week, the respected Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report addressing the current childhood immunization schedule. After a thorough review of the scientific literature, the IOM found no major safety concerns with the recommended schedule. Specifically, they cited no relationship of vaccines to autism, attention deficit disorder, or learning disabilities.
Regardless of the landmark report, social media is busy chattering that the U.S. Vaccine Injury Compensation Program recently gave two children with autism monetary awards for their health conditions. As a pediatrician, does it change my opinion about vaccine safety? No. Let me explain why. (Warning: It’s kind of boring, but worth reading about!)
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closely monitor vaccines through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Anyone (doctors, patients’ families, lawyers) may submit a VAERS form if a health issue arises at anytime after vaccination. Obviously, these reports do not prove that a vaccine causes a particular illness. The CDC and FDA review each report to see if there is a pattern of illness after vaccination. VAERS data is available to the public here. Independent of the federal government, six U.S. academic medical centers also evaluate for vaccine side effects. Additionally, the Vaccine Safety Datalink, a database maintained by several managed care groups across the country, monitors potential vaccine safety issues. Bottom line: There are several mechanisms in place to ensure that immunizations are safe.
However, like any medication, no vaccine is 100 percent effective or 100 percent risk-free. Rare, serious reactions can occur with vaccination. And if it happens, it’s devastating. But we take this small risk for the tremendous benefit of protection to ourselves and to others. As such, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) in 1988 to compensate those who potentially suffered a vaccine reaction. Those specific disorders are here.
At VICP, lawyers reviews patients’ records and determine whether to award monetary compensation. Yes, you read that correctly—attorneys are making the call here—not doctors, scientists, or vaccinologists. While the decisions from the “vaccine court” do not prove anything scientifically, VICP acts compassionately and does a reasonable job.
Since 1988, 100 million American babies have been born (99 percent of whom have received vaccines) and millions of older children and adults have also been vaccinated. With this huge number of vaccinated Americans, there have been less than 15,000 VICP claims filed. VICP has awarded compensation to 20 percent of those claimants. About one-third of all claims sought compensation for autism, and most claims occurred during the height of vaccine safety concerns in 2002-2004. VICP reviewed these claims collectively and found no substantial evidence linking vaccines and autism to provide compensation.
So then: What’s the story with the kids with autism who received financial compensation? Well, the children’s medical records are not publicly available so it is impossible to know, but they did not receive the awards for autism.
With a severe flu season and twenty children who have died, it’s important to look at the big picture. Most people get shots and endure nothing more than a sore arm.
With the scrutiny given to vaccines, we would know if there was a significant problem. As a pediatrician and a mom, I vaccinated my own kids to protect them. I wouldn’t do anything differently for yours.
Categories: Babies, GoodyBlog, Health & Safety, News, Your Child | Tags: American Academy of Pediatrics, Ari Brown, autism, Baby 411, flu shot, Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, vaccine safety, vaccines
Friday, January 18th, 2013
As we explain in this story, there’s debate among certain groups over whether pediatricians should be allowed to discuss gun safety with parents. The quick version: Pediatricians want to determine how safe a child’s home is, and asking whether there’s a gun–and whether it’s stored unloaded, and in a locked cabinet, and in a place separate from ammunition–is a logical part of that conversation. Gun advocates say it’s an invasion of privacy and a threat to the Second Amendment, and in many states there are efforts to punish doctors who initiate this discussion with large fines or jail time or both.
You may have heard that yesterday, a 7-year-old boy brought a semiautomatic pistol to his prep school in Queens, New York. (That is not him in the photo.) It hasn’t been revealed yet whether the gun was loaded, but the boy did bring the gun’s magazine, filled with bullets, as well as a plastic bag with at least another seven rounds of ammunition. According to the story I read in the New York Times, the police believe that the boy’s mom somehow found out about the gun, and arrived at the school around 9:30 a.m. under the pretense of taking her son to a dentist’s appointment. “It would appear that the intention was just to get the gun back and get it out of the school,” said one officer. But when her son told her he put it in a classmate’s backpack, she alerted the principal. The gun and ammo were found right away (they were in her son’s bag after all), but the school was put on lockdown for several hours. An 8-year-old was quoted as saying, “They made us turn off the lights and hide behind the teacher’s desk. I almost cried. I was afraid I was going to get shot.”
There are lots of unanswered questions at this point, but it seems likely that the mother–who was arrested this morning and charged with criminal possession of a weapon and endangering the welfare of a child, among other things–had no idea that her son was carrying a gun and bullets in his backpack when he went to school. I can’t help but wonder: If we were more open to the idea of having pediatricians talk about gun safety, maybe those conversations would be more commonplace… and parents would have their eyes opened to the precautions they must take if they have a gun in their home.
Photo: Serious little boy with the big black pistol via Shutterstock.
Thursday, January 17th, 2013
Yesterday we brought you flu advice for kids, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, we’re focusing on what pregnant women need to know, thanks to the March of Dimes. This post was written by Siobhan Dolan, M.D., M.P.H. Dr. Dolan is the author of the upcoming Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby: The Ultimate Pregnancy Guide, to be published on January 29 by HarperOne.
Flu is back in the headlines again. Epidemics, Emergencies, Shortages ……… the publicity can scare folks, especially pregnant women. Flu is taking its toll in 2013 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting widespread illness reported in 47 states and 20 pediatric deaths.
The concerns for pregnant women are real: Flu increases their risk for respiratory complications, preterm labor and delivery, and ICU admission. Newborns are also at an increased risk of severe illness and even death from the flu.
But the message for pregnant women is really clear: Prevention with a flu shot and early treatment of women with influenza-like illness is the best course of action. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), March of Dimes, and CDC all endorse this message, so women should not feel uncertain.
The March of Dimes web site has practical information for women here.
The Immunization for Women website from ACOG reinforces the message:
“All women who will be pregnant during influenza (flu) season (October through May) should receive the inactivated influenza vaccine. The live attenuated influenza vaccine is contraindicated for pregnant women. The influenza vaccine is safe for pregnant women and their unborn children as well as postpartum and breast feeding women and can be given during any trimester. Immunizing pregnant and postpartum women against seasonal influenza can protect the mother and may help her baby by preventing the spread of the flu from mother to child following delivery. The seasonal flu vaccine has been given safely to millions of pregnant women over the past 45 years.”
Women are listening, with 47 percent of pregnant women surveyed by CDC in early 2012 reporting getting their flu shot, up from less than 30 percent four years ago.
So go get your flu shot. And tell your pregnant sister-in-law or co-worker to get hers, too. Let’s help keep pregnant women and newborns out of the headlines by spreading the word.
Photo: Pregnant with a cold via Shutterstock.
Categories: Babies, GoodyBlog, Health & Safety, News, Pregnancy, Pregnancy, Your Life | Tags: flu, flu shot, flu vaccine, influenza, March of Dimes, Pregnancy
Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
This comes to us from our friends at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
As a parent, you always do everything you can to keep your family safe. With flu season starting early this year, have you taken the steps to protect yourself and your family from flu? Most of the country is now seeing high levels of flu activity, and this may continue for some time. Unfortunately, there is nothing that provides 100% protection against flu. However, flu vaccine is the single best way to protect against seasonal flu and is especially important for children younger than 5 and children of any age with other health complications such as asthma, neurological disease or immune deficiencies. Here are six important things parents should know:
1. A flu vaccine is the best way to prevent flu. If anyone in your family hasn’t gotten a flu vaccine yet, go get vaccinated now! With very few exceptions, everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated each year, and it’s especially important for people at high risk to get vaccinated. If your child has a high risk condition or an egg allergy, ask your doctor which vaccine is best. Also, flu vaccine may be a little harder to find now than it was in the fall, so you may need to contact more than one provider (pharmacy, health department, or doctor) to find available vaccine. The flu vaccine locator may be helpful to you in your search.
2. Flu vaccines cannot give you the flu. Flu vaccines cannot give you the flu because they are made from killed or weakened influenza viruses. Unfortunately, there are a couple reasons why it’s still possible to get the flu even if you were vaccinated. First, people may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period (roughly two weeks) it takes the body to build its immune response after vaccination. Second, there’s a possibility of catching a flu virus not included in the vaccine. And last, some people can get sick with a flu virus that’s in the vaccine even if they got vaccinated, partly due to health and age factors.
3. Stay away from sick people. Flu spreads mainly in the droplets of sick people who are coughing and sneezing, so have your family stay away from people who are sick as much as possible, and, if you are sick, stay away from people who are well. Both kids and parents should stay home during illness and for at least 24 hours after fever is gone unless medical care is needed. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
4. Ask your doctor about antiviral drugs. If your family does get sick with the flu, antiviral drugs can be used to treat the illness. Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. If you or someone in your family has a high risk condition, antiviral drugs are especially important, and treatment should be started as soon as possible. A doctor will decide whether antiviral drugs are needed (you will need a prescription to get them), but you need to take the first step by asking the doctor about your illness.
5. “Everyday healthy habits” are still important. Make sure everyone in your family knows to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. And remember to wash hands with soap and water often. These last tips are good ones to live by during and outside of flu season and can help protect against the spread of other viruses too. Let’s all do our part to prevent the flu!
6. Know when to seek medical attention. Parents should seek medical attention if their child is not drinking enough fluids, if there is persistent or severe vomiting, if flu-like symptoms linger or improves and returns, if there is difficulty breathing, or other health conditions that are accompanied by flu symptoms, including a fever and/or cough. For infants, parents should watch for signs of inability to eat, trouble breathing, no tears when crying, and significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.
For more questions about influenza and ways to prevent it, visit: cdc.gov/flu or flu.gov.
Photo: Little girl is blowing her nose via Shutterstock
Friday, January 11th, 2013
That’s the question I got at 6:15 this morning, after my 7-year-old, Julia, found four quarters under her pillow (quarters I only remembered to slip there at 4:35 a.m. when my subconscious woke me from a dream about her losing a top tooth).
Shoot. I wasn’t prepared for this. I stalled with, “What do you mean?”
“Are you the one that put the money under my pillow?”
My face got goofy. “I don’t know what you want me to say…” (As in, are you sure you want to know?)
She stared at me. “Yes or no!”
My face got goofier.
“That’s a yes,” she said.
I shut my bedroom door. “Okay, listen,” I said conspiratorially. “I am–but you can’t say anything to your friends, and you can’t tell Lila,” referring to her 4-year-old sister.
Her eyes bulged and she laughed. “You are?! You’re the Tooth Fairy? I knew it. I knew it!”
And before I could even begin to get sad about my little girl growing up, she said, “Wait. Are you everybody’s Tooth Fairy, or just mine?”
Love it! “No, honey, I don’t have time to be everybody’s Tooth Fairy.”
“So everybody’s parents are their Tooth Fairy?” she clarified.
“Yes. And remember–it’s fun to believe in the Tooth Fairy, so don’t tell your friends, and don’t tell Lila.” We shook on it.
Tell me, everyone who’s been in this position: How long until she connects the dots and asks about Santa? Please tell me there’s time!
Friday, January 4th, 2013
Is there a phrase you’d like to banish more than “fiscal cliff”? But before we put it out of our minds–temporarily, anyway–let’s hear a smart analysis of what the agreement hammered out on New Year’s Eve really means for families. This follow-up post comes from Ann O’Leary,the director of the Children and Families Program at The Center for the Next Generation. The Center has recently launched a campaign called Too Small to Fail, a national movement to raise awareness about the state of America’s children and how the country can come together to create a stronger future for the next generation; we at Parents are one of its partners.
In an 11th hour set of furious negotiations, Congress and President Obama reached an agreement on the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a self-imposed set of deadlines that would have resulted in automatic tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts in the absence of a deal.
In many respects, the deal is good news for America’s children and families.
- It raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans (those families making over $450,000 per year, or individuals making over $400,000 per year) and uses the increased revenue to provide many supports for middle- and low-income working families.
- It preserves the middle-class income tax cuts put into place in 2001 under President George W. Bush.
- It also ensures a lower tax bill for more working parents by extending the expansion of two critical tax breaks for taxpayers with children—the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit—particularly to reach larger and lower-income families.
- In addition, it lowers the tax bill for low- and moderate-income families who are helping pay for their children’s college tuition by extending the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
- Finally, the deal extends unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed, many of whom are parents desperately searching for a job in a still-weak economy.
But as I explained just before the holidays, the fiscal cliff is only the latest hurdle faced by our government in trying to resolve much longer-term debates about how much debt the United States should carry, which revenue and spending policies will best help the economy grow, and whether the United States can sustain the commitments it has made to America’s seniors through Social Security and Medicare.
None of these bigger and more difficult questions have been resolved as part of this deal. In fact, Congress and the President agreed to delay the automatic budget cuts to major federal spending programs for only two months and to delay the question of whether Congress will again raise the country’s debt limit. This means that the President and the Congress, divided by deep ideological differences about how best to spend taxpayer dollars, have again agreed to automatic spending cuts that will take effect in early March, including cuts to some of our most impactful programs for children—Title I funds that aid schools with the most low-income students, federal funding that goes to states to help schools pay for the costs of aiding children with special needs and disabilities, and funding for Head Start to provide critical early education opportunities to our neediest children.
It also means that, at some point soon, Congress and the President will reopen the debate about reforming Social Security and Medicare, our largest entitlement programs. Along with debating those entitlement programs, they are likely to put back on the table possible cuts to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—programs that provide essential health and food security for millions of America’s children.
So, we may have temporarily rescued our kids from the edge of the cliff. But the political winds continue to push them toward the precipice.
Photo: Fiscal cliff phrase in the sand being washed away via Shutterstock.
Categories: GoodyBlog, News, Your Child | Tags: Ann O'Leary, Center for the Next Generation, Children's Health Insurance Program, congress, fiscal cliff, head start, Medicare, president obama, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Too Small to Fail