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How Does the Government Shutdown Affect Kids?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

A lot of the talk surrounding the current government shutdown has focused on bipartisan politics. But while the adults fight it out, kids are being left out. The impacts of the government shutdown are far-reaching and could potentially impair the health and happiness of children across the country. Take a look at some of the ways that the shutdown will impact kids.

Kids’ Health and Wellness

Food Safety

With Congress at impasse, government agencies can’t perform their most basic responsibilities sufficiently. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the midst of a government shutdown, the “FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities,” which is likely to make some parents think twice about what they put on the dinner table during this period. (You can still keep tabs on the latest food and product recalls by checking Parents.com.)

New Patient Care

The National Institutes of Health is in a bind, currently unable to admit new patients, unless by the approval of the NIH director. This could halt life-saving medical research for children in need of serious medical care.

Flu Shots

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can’t support its seasonal influenza program, so the fate of flu vaccines administered by the CDC is up in the air. Not only is it a critical time to receive flu vaccinations for the whole family, but the flu is also especially dangerous for children, and can lead to various complications. Fortunately, it’s not too late to get your child vaccinated, and the CDC is far from the only provider.

Federal Grants

The Administration for Children and Families can’t go forth with quarterly formula grants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Care, the Social Services Block Grant, Refugee Programs, Child Welfare Services and the Community Service Block Grant programs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This means that crucial programs can’t receive the funding they deserve based on predetermined criteria such as population size served, and consequently, many children could lose support in a number of welfare sectors.

Kids and Their Families   

Care for Moms and Small Children

Funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will fall on the states. Federal funding that would have gone toward clinical services, food benefits, and administrative costs are stalled, which leaves low-income mothers who rely on WIC’s thousands of clinic sites without complete care. This is worrisome for the women who benefit from WIC’s health and nutrition support and the 53% of all infants born in the U.S. served by WIC.

Head Start

While only a handful of Head Start programs have been immediately affected by the shutdown, the future of the school-readiness program for low-income children and their families as a whole isn’t certain. As a program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start faces more funding woes, as new discretionary grants for the program can’t be made. And the longer the shutdown looms, the less prepared kids in Head Start will be for school. For families who depend on Head Start for childcare, they will have to find temporary caretakers for their kids while moms and dads work.

Heating

With fall and winter around the corner, heating bills are bound to go up. But that’s not feasible for families who need the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to keep warm during the colder months. There’s already a chill in the air, and it’s sure to sting much worse should the shutdown continue, delaying funding for families left in the cold.

Government Workers

The government needs many more people to function than just those in Congress, and 800,000 government workers forced to stay at home are really feeling the pinch. Delayed pay means that families in government service will likely have to put a hold on spending for their children. Food, clothing and mortgages could all be derailed until the government starts up again.  And adding another layer of distress to families who have lost loved ones in active duty, the death benefits they receive will be delayed.

Kids’ Exploration

Museums

Because the turmoil is brewing in the nation’s capital, it makes sense that some establishments in the city would temporarily shutter. But sadly, many of the sites in Washington, D.C., that are closed are also some of the kid-friendliest, like the Smithsonian Institution, which includes 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park. (But don’t worry — even though the panda cam has gone dark, the animals at the zoo will still be cared for.) Many private museums will stay open, but the Smithsonian Institution’s and national monuments’ free admission is why these places are accessible to families from all income levels.

National Landmarks

Whether you’re in Rock Creek Park or Yellowstone, you’ll have to pack up your picnic basket and your hiking boots because all national parks are off-limits. Even campers who were in the parks before the government shutdown must leave immediately. It’s especially a shame because fall is arguably the most beautiful time of the year to explore the country’s natural national treasures. Visitor centers at destinations such as the Statue of Liberty will also be denied entrance.

Image via Shutterstock 

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Fight Childhood Cancer All Year Long

Friday, September 27th, 2013

As National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, some hopeful news has surfaced, in that the campaign for an end to childhood cancer is stronger than ever. Results from the National Poll on Children’s Health, conducted by University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, show that childhood cancer is the top priority for children’s health research among adults in the U.S.

Here at Parents, we’ve been writing about childhood cancer throughout September. And while the month may be ending, the dedication to cancer research and awareness doesn’t seem to be waning. So how can you help kids lead healthier, longer lives all year? Read on for ways to make a difference in the lives of children with cancer.

Make Your Voice Heard

Participants in the National Poll on Children’s Health have already brought attention to childhood cancer by voicing their concerns.

“Getting people involved in research, whether they’re adults or kids, is critically important to advancing medical care,” says Matthew Davis, M.D., director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

“This [report] highlights the tremendous importance of sustaining and even expanding the national level of research around children’s cancer that has been threatened by recent federal budget cuts and recent downturns in the economy,” Dr. Davis says.

Many obstacles are keeping childhood cancer research from advancing, but reports like this can spur lawmakers to act.

“Society needs to recognize that there should be a resolution to the frustrations among the pediatric cancer community that they can’t always get a drug available to try to help a child,” says Larry E. Kun, M.D., clinical director and executive vice president chair at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “It’s a given in adults, but because of the relatively small cohort [of children with cancer], it’s very frustrating for us.” But, he notes, even if the number of children with cancer is relatively small, “it seems very large when it’s a child you know or a child of your own.”

Dr. Kun suggests seeking out advocacy groups in your area where parents are working toward legislative support. Make a phone call, send an email or start an online petition to let your state representatives know that childhood cancer should be at the forefront of medical research.

Do Your Homework

Donating to worthy causes is one of the simplest ways to help those in need. But sadly, not all organizations are what they seem to be. Make sure any organization that receives your donations has a strong history of helping others and giving funds directly to research and medical care. Dr. Kun recommends donating to organizations with specific expertise in pediatric care for children with cancer, and with a large number of highly trained subspecialists. To assess a charity you’re interested in helping out, check out Charity Navigator to ensure your money is going to the right place.

Use Your Talents

You don’t have to have a background in medicine to make a difference for children living with cancer, nor do you need a huge pocketbook. Some of the best childhood cancer awareness efforts function on a grassroots level.

Organizations like St. Baldrick’s are famous for their head-shaving events that promote solidarity and awareness, but they also encourage people to do what they do best in raising money, whatever that may be. Organize a fundraiser block party or rummage sale, or start a social media campaign. And even if you and your children are in good health, the whole family can often participate in studies that will help researchers better understand childhood cancer.

Get the Kids Involved

Kathleen Ruddy, CEO of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, knows that it can be difficult for parents to talk to their children about peers their age fighting cancer. “But the fact is, kids are smart, and they might have grandparents who have cancer, they might have a neighbor who has cancer, or they might know about it anyway,” Ruddy says. Fortunately, “the beauty of it is that kids want to help.”

Ruddy is always pleased to see children who start clubs at their schools and continue their efforts into college and beyond, but teaching kids the value of helping others can be as simple as reaching out to the local hospital to ask about charity drives or volunteer positions. If you want to put your sweet tooth to good use, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation are two organizations that take a tasty approach to helping kids battling childhood cancer by using bake sale-style fundraising.

Whatever you choose to do in helping raise awareness about childhood cancer, both you and your children can feel good about your efforts.

“Parents teaching their kids that they can be leaders and that they can be part of the solution is really powerful,” Ruddy says. “It cements in them the desire to do good for life.”

Image via Shutterstock 

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September 11 Through a Child’s Eyes

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Before the devastation that would change life as we know it, September 11, 2001, was an average day in Ms. T’s fifth grade class in Washington, D.C. We, a group of rowdy 10 year olds, would soon settle down to morning meeting and a day filled with fractions and grammar review.

Shortly after 9:00 a.m. a somber intercom announcement by our principal cut through our chatter. There had been an attack on the World Trade Center and we were all being sent home immediately. We didn’t understand what was happening. Few of us even knew what the World Trade Center was. But the situation became clearer as one of my classmates sobbed, fearing that her mother was close to the towers, and tears ran down my teacher’s red, puffy face as she tried to no avail to call her parents. “We’re gonna be OK, right?” she said with a strained smile. I didn’t know what to say. I returned her one-armed hug before being whisked away to the daycare center where my mom worked.

A box TV on a cart was rolled into the kitchen of the daycare center, where staff watched in horror. The children were unaware of the chaos and and played in   their classrooms while anxious teachers distracted them. One woman read to a baby who was still in the kitchen while pillars of smoke rose on every major news network behind them.

My dad came to check on me and my mom. I was grateful for his presence, knowing that some of my school friends were still agonizing about their parents’ whereabouts. I clung to my big, strong father who towered above me at over six feet tall. He had been faced with many emergencies as a police officer, but always remained calm and collected. He would know what to do. I patted him on the arm. “Dad, we’re safe, right?” “Dad, they can’t attack us, right?” “Right,” he said unconvincingly, his eyes never averting from the destruction on screen. He could stop a robbery or break up a fight, but we were all now faced with bad guys even my dad couldn’t bring to justice. My parents seriously discussed leaving D.C., just a stone’s throw away from the Pentagon.

I went home and curled up on my mom’s bed with the lunch I would have eaten that afternoon in the cafeteria on what was supposed to be a perfectly unremarkable day. I turned the TV to Barney and didn’t bother changing the channel. I had long outgrown the big purple dinosaur, but his goofiness wrapped around me like a security blanket as I munched cold noodles from my lunchbox. I longed for answers nobody could give me — not my teacher nor my parents.

In the days that followed adults tried to explain as best as they could and soften the blow of 9/11.The house in our neighborhood famous for turning terrifying every Halloween sported a much friendlier Harry Potter facade that year. We returned to the same classroom where we first learned of the attacks and discussed our feelings. We never came to a satisfying conclusion and we were still burdened with uncertainty, but talking it out gave us some comfort. Most importantly, my classmate and teacher had both found their families safe and unharmed.

It’s a heartbreaking thought that we can’t always assuredly tell our children everything will be OK, and it’s an experience many parents and caretakers faced on September 11, 2001. For me, it marked the first time in my childhood that I realized people as wise as my parents could be at a total loss, just like so many children were that day. It was a turning point in my life to see that no matter our age, there are some situations that leave us bewildered.  The knowledge that grownups can’t fix everything is a sad fact all children must face. I just wish it hadn’t been under such tragic circumstances.

Image: little upset girl hugged with her grandmother via Shutterstock by Cherry-Merry
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Being a Part of History

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Today’s kids might not know exactly who Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin or Harry Belafonte are. But for those lucky enough to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Dr. King gave his famous  “I Have a Dream” speech August 28th, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,  just being part of the experience sets them up for a lifetime of civic engagement.

It would be an honor to be back in my hometown of Washington, D.C. this week to commemorate the people and events that would inspire my own activism decades later. D.C. is an incredible place to grow up. It’s where kids are exposed to the historical events, both good and bad, that have made the country what it is. I was fortunate to soak up so much of it and take those lessons throughout my life.

As a child I was fascinated with the work of legendary civil rights activists thanks to a surprisingly comprehensive education both in and out of school. I was thrilled to be cast as Rosa Parks in a kindergarten production of famous  leaders. I admired her strength in refusing to give up her seat on that bus in Montgomery, AL, and I wanted to be as brave as she was.

But I still couldn’t imagine a world like the one that I learned about in books and movies about the Civil Rights Movement. I remember shrieking and crying during the scene of a police melee in a biopic of Ruby Bridges, the first student to integrate an all-white Southern elementary school. As a naïve child attending a diverse public school in the nineties, I couldn’t fathom how a little girl could incite so much hate. Why are people so angry? I wondered. She just wants to go to school.

That was a particularly upsetting incident that made me want to ask a lot of big questions. Even as an adult I don’t know the answers to many of the issues I pondered, but I was happy that adults took my concerns into account and encouraged me to speak out about injustices I saw in my own little world. Maybe sticking up for a classmate wasn’t on par with being imprisoned for protesting, but as Dr. King would have said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I’ve now been to a number of protests, rallies and town hall meetings where I’ve felt like my presence has made a point. From a child attending the Million Mom March with my mother to being a college student engaging in thoughtful debate, I’m grateful for even the unpleasant experiences that have spurred me to stand up for the issues I care about.

Some parents might understandably be wary of exposing their children to such big, uncomfortable issues like discrimination, but those questions we wish we could shield our children from are inevitable. And sadly, our children are likely to confront these issues in real life. If there’s a cause you care deeply about, sharing it with your child can open the doors to future social activism. Even a single event can make a huge impact.

Image: kid hands and the earth globe via Shutterstock by robertlamphoto

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