Public Policy Advocacy

Advocacy for Children: The Time is Now

By: Emily Boushee

In Connecticut and across the country, children are facing significant challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the additional crises the pandemic has brought to light, including escalating behavioral health concerns and inequities stemming from racial and social injustice. Children need our advocacy more than ever.

To help ensure children’s needs are met, Connecticut Children’s participated in the Children’s Hospital Association’s annual Family Advocacy Week.

Our Patients as Advocates

Family Advocacy Week focuses on bringing patient stories to members of Congress to encourage federal support of children’s hospitals and important children’s health issues. At Connecticut Children’s, we know that no one tells our story better that our patients and their families.

During this year’s Family Advocacy Week, Madeline, Archie, Samuel, Tori and their families joined us for meetings with the Connecticut congressional delegation. They helped us advocate on behalf of important children’s health issues, such as supporting children’s behavioral health, enhancing services for those with autism, maintaining a well-trained pediatric workforce, and much more.

Read more about Madeline, Archie, Samuel and Tori.

Advocacy Related to COVID-19

During Family Advocacy Week, Connecticut Children’s also hosted its own series of virtual events to provide parents and caregivers with an opportunity to learn more about how decisions made by lawmakers and government agencies impact children and how everyone can make a difference.

During one of those sessions, Rachel Levine, MD, the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, delivered the keynote address. Dr. Levine addressed a number of topics including her trailblazing role as the first openly transgender federal official. She said, “I recognize I am the first, but I won’t be the last.”

As a pediatrician who focuses her work on adolescents and the intersection between mental and physical health, Dr. Levine discussed the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our nation’s young people, both directly and indirectly. While children typically have been spared the severe impact of the disease, she pointed out that is not always the case. As of early June, Dr. Levine said there have been more than 4,000 confirmed cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in the United States. “These are very sick children who need intensive care,” stated Dr. Levine. Tragically, at least 36 of those children have died.

Dr. Levine noted that she is also concerned about the number of adolescents who end up hospitalized with COVID-19, and urged those 12 and older who are eligible for vaccines to get them. “We have safe and effective vaccines,” stated Dr. Levine. “As more people get vaccinated, the more the rates will fall in terms of cases, hospitalizations and death.”

Listen to Dr. Levine’s remarks here.

Dr. Levine also addressed the escalating mental health crisis among youth across our country, noting that pediatric providers are seeing mental health concerns in much greater numbers than ever before. “We are just beginning to understand the impact of COVID-19 on mental health,” noted Dr. Levine. She mentioned the loss of safety and security, the cancellation of significant life events, and young people coping with the loss of loved ones as contributing factors in the escalating mental health crisis.

A recent publication in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) highlighted a sharp increase in emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts during the pandemic. Such emergency department visits among girls ages 12 to 17 spiked 50.6% between February 21 and March 20, 2021 compared to the same period in 2019, according to the study. “Youth are experiencing collective trauma,” said Dr. Levine. “This is an adverse childhood experience of epidemic proportions.”

Dr. Levine spoke about the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on people of color, both in regards to health and mental health. “It is a fact that this pandemic has impacted some far more than others, particularly people of color,” stated Dr. Levine. She mentioned the creation of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which will provide specific recommendations to the president regarding how best to mitigate health inequities caused or exposed by COVID-19. She talked about the impact of remote learning and the digital divide on the education and mental health of children and youth of color. “We have to do better to address the mental health needs of children in our country and we will do that,” said Dr. Levine, who mentioned the development of a new Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, which is charged with coordinating all federal government resources to address inequities related to mental health and substance use treatment.

Additional Advocacy Sessions

Connecticut Children’s Family Advocacy Week featured additional sessions to give families the tools they need to advocate for children’s needs, including:

We Can All Make a Difference in Children’s Lives Through Advocacy

In wrapping up her session, Dr. Levine reminded participants not to forget about their own mental health and physical health in this challenging time. “You have to take care of yourselves to take care of each other,” she stated.

She noted that we are all in a position to make a difference in children’s lives and in the lives of families around the country. In working together, we will build a safer and healthier world for all of our children, said Dr. Levine.

Emily Boushee is a government relations associate at Connecticut Children’s.

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