Throughout the past seven years, the number of children and teens in New England with developmental or emotional disorders has increased exponentially, the Kids Count Data Center reports. Developmental disorders are conditions that interrupt a child’s development. They include Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and spina bifida. Emotional disorders affect a person’s ability to be happy, control their emotions and pay attention in school. They include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
It’s a summer afternoon and parents with their young children have gathered to hear what a nutritionist with Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has to offer. They watch with intrigue as Mary Paige demonstrates how to make yogurt dots from frozen Greek yogurt and French fries from roasted parsnips and carrots. After a 10-minute demo in the WIC office at Yale New Haven Hospital’s Primary Care Center, Stephany Uriostegui of West Haven is sold. She can’t wait to try the recipes at home for her 10-month-old son and 5- and 7-year-old daughters. “I always buy the [yogurt dots] from Walmart,” she said.
Tens of thousands of adolescents in Connecticut still do not have access to effective mental health care, despite the passage of a 2008 federal law requiring health insurers to provide equal benefits for mental health. Poor access to care leads to undiagnosed or misdiagnosed mental illness in children and adolescents, an increase in use of emergency rooms for psychiatric issues, and is a risk factor for severe mental illness, substance abuse, failure in school, and entering the juvenile justice system. National studies show that about 1 in 5 children and teens have mental illness, but only one quarter of them receive services. “That leaves about 125,000 children without mental health care in Connecticut,” said Susan Kelley, director of the Alliance for Children’s Mental Health. Some say that estimate is low, partly because it doesn’t capture mental illness misdiagnosed as behavioral problems. “I think that’s a very optimistic figure,” said Eliot Brenner, PhD, president and CEO of the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut.
With Connecticut children testing positive for lead at consistently high numbers, and millions of dollars thrown at the problem with tepid results, lawmakers may finally be stepping up to seek an effective solution. The Banking Committee is considering a bill that would create a task force to study better ways to finance the removal of the toxin from thousands of homes around the state. The task force would also investigate how to enforce abatement measures, including rental property inspections, and look into increasing workforce training in the specialized process needed to remove lead. State Department of Public Health (DPH) numbers from 2015, the latest available, show more than 72,000 children under the age of 6 testing positive for some level of lead in their blood. More than 900 children were at levels two to four times the baseline at which a child is considered poisoned.
On a snowy Saturday morning in January, Selvin, 13, and his mother were in the basement of the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, to support a friend in sanctuary. As they sat there, the boy tried to push away thoughts of how it would be when ICE came to take away his own mother, who is also under a deportation order. “I’m going to be alone with my little brother and my dad,” Selvin said. “Sometimes I feel I don’t want to talk to anybody. I just go to my room, lock the door, and I feel depressed.”
Selvin – whose family asked that his last name be withheld – is among thousands of immigrant children in Connecticut and nationally feeling the effects of prolonged stress, which can become so toxic it can damage the developing brain.
The number of low-income Connecticut children receiving dental sealants, a treatment to prevent tooth decay, has grown in recent years and the state’s participation rate outpaces the nation. In 2016, 44,497 (19.6 percent) of the 226,111 children ages 5 to 16 enrolled in the Connecticut Dental Health Partnership had sealants placed on molars, up 9 percent from 2011, according to the state Department of Social Services. Nationally, in the 2015 fiscal year, 14.9 percent of eligible children – 2.7 million out of more than 17 million – received sealants, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. State officials and dental providers make a concerted effort to educate families about the importance of sealants, said Donna Balaski, director of dental services at DSS. “Sealants are shown to be an effective treatment for preventing disease,” she said, and is part of a broader DSS strategy to teach families about overall dental health.
On the surface, it looks as if Connecticut children fare pretty well. According to the annual Kids Count report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the state ranks fourth in education, third in health, and sixth in overall well-being for children. The foundation pointed to nearly universal health insurance—97 percent—for Connecticut’s children as a major contributor to the state’s high ranking. Of all the states, Connecticut also had the lowest rate of deaths among children ages 1 to 19: 15 deaths per 100,000 children. But that’s not the entire story, not by half.
The rate of infants dying suddenly and unexpectedly has dropped in recent years, but data show that racial disparities persist. Babies born to American Indian and Alaska Natives and African American families suffer much higher rates of sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) than other races and ethnicities, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show. Between 2011 and 2014, 194.1 American Indian and Alaska Native infants and 170.2 African American infants per 100,000 live births died from SUID nationwide. Those rates are significantly higher compared with 83.8 for whites, 51.1 for Hispanics and 32.1 for Asian or Pacific Islander babies per 100,000 live births, during the same time period. SUID encompasses sudden infant death syndrome, commonly known as SIDS, as well accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed, and other unspecified causes of death in children up to a year old.
A task force created by state lawmakers will examine whether the Department of Children and Families (DCF) should be prohibited from requiring that parents give up custody of their children in order to access mental health and other services, under legislation signed by the governor. The newly formed panel, which is charged with reporting its recommendations by Feb. 1, 2018, will study whether state statutes should be amended to prohibit DCF from requiring or requesting that a parent or guardian of a youth admitted to DCF on a voluntary basis terminate his or parental rights or transfer custody in order to obtain services. The task force also will study ways of increasing families’ access to voluntary services without making parents relinquish custody of their children. The legislation creating the task force was prompted by recent stories by C-HIT that detailed a practice known as ‘trading custody for care,’ in which parents who cannot meet their children’s severe behavioral health needs in a home setting are subject to “uncared for” petitions that turn their children over to DCF custody.
It’s not easy being poor, and being a poor child is particularly difficult, especially if you live in a state in the middle of a budgetary crisis, like Connecticut. And that’s rough, given that more U.S. girls live in poverty now than in 2007, pre-Great Recession, according to The State of Girls 2017: Emerging Truth and Troubling Trends, a recent study from the Girl Scout Research Institute. Using data from the Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Center for Education Statistics, the report paints a scary picture of the economics of being a girl in the U.S. (Other research topics from the institute, founded in 2000 as an arm of the venerable girls’ organization, include the impact of reality television on girls, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and girls.)
From the report:
• A total of 41 percent of American girls live in low-income households, compared to 38 percent in 2007. Low-income means that a family earns less than twice the federal poverty level, which in 2016 was $24,300 for a family of four. • More than half of African-American, Hispanic/Latina, and American Indian girls are considered low-income in the U.S.
• Connecticut has one of the country’s lowest girls’ poverty rates, at 13 percent.