After decades of inertia, Connecticut is finally moving to help its thousands of lead-poisoned children and prevent thousands of other young children from being damaged by the widespread neurotoxin. The state will direct most of its efforts — and most of $30 million in federal money — toward its cities, whose children have borne the brunt of this epidemic. In announcing the allocation recently, Gov. Ned Lamont pointed to lead’s “catastrophic” effects on children’s health and development, noting that lead poisoning is “a problem that impacts most deeply minority and disadvantaged communities of our state.” Nearly half of the 1,024 children reported as lead poisoned in 2020 lived in New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury, Hartford, or other cities, according to state Department of Public Health numbers. The more enduring thrust of the state’s new actions, however, is the strengthening of its outdated lead laws, starting in 2023.
More than 1,000 Connecticut children under age 6 were reported poisoned by lead in 2020, according to a report released this week by the state Department of Public Health (DPH). Of the children tested that year, 649 were new cases. As has been the case for many years, nearly half of the 1,024 lead-poisoned children lived in the state’s cities. New Haven had the highest number of lead-poisoned children, with 171, followed by Bridgeport, 148; Waterbury, 81; Hartford, 71; and Meriden, 35. These five cities had 49% of all lead-poisoned children in Connecticut in 2020.
On paper, the social worker’s role at public K-12 schools is straightforward: to support a caseload of students with special needs to thrive in often-challenging academic setting. But ask a social worker employed in a public school these days, and they’re likely to tell a much different story. For social worker Jara Rijs, who works at Windham Center School, where more than half of its pre-K through fifth-grade students qualify for subsidized lunch, the job responsibilities bleed well beyond the job description, particularly since the pandemic hit. As many in her school community face trauma either induced or exacerbated by the pandemic, Rijs says she considers every one of the estimated 250 students at her elementary school part of her caseload. Beyond providing clinical support to students with individual education plans, in a given day, Rijs might also meet with a student struggling with a family loss or divorce, connect to a community health agency to check availability, lead a staff discussion on self-care, or even don the school’s “froggy” mascot costume—a symbol of the school’s “Froggy Four” character development program.
The Community Health Center Inc. set up shop inside the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Waterbury on a Friday in mid-July. Armed with 24 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the team of six staff and volunteers sat ready for patients from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Not one person showed up. The turnout was not surprising, according to the vaccination site leader and nurses at the mobile clinic. Last month, new vaccinations across Connecticut fell to the lowest numbers since January, a predictable outcome when nearly 65% of the total state population has received at least one vaccine dose. But in Waterbury, only 46% of residents are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
A total of 1,665 Connecticut children under age 6 had lead poisoning in 2017, a drop of almost 17% from the year before and the largest one-year decrease in five years, according to a just-released report from the state Department of Public Health (DPH). But more children showed higher levels of the toxin in their blood than in 2016, the report says. In 2016, there were 105 children whose blood lead level was 20 micrograms per deciliter of blood or higher, at least four times the measure at which they’re considered poisoned. In 2017, the number had risen to 120 children. DPH epidemiologist Tsui-Min Hung said the improved overall numbers were at least partially due to the department’s more aggressive prevention activities, which 42 local health departments took advantage of, as well a social media campaign.
Nearly 1,400 new cases of lead-poisoned children under age 6 were reported in Connecticut in 2015, a slight drop from the year before, but more children showed higher levels of poisoning. A child whose blood test shows 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter or higher is considered poisoned. The 2015 numbers show 98 new cases of children with lead levels of 20 micrograms or higher, four times the threshold number and a 32 percent jump from 2014. “We cannot, with any certainty, explain why this is the case,” said Krista M. Veneziano, coordinator of the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s (DPH’s) Lead, Radon, and Healthy Homes Program, about the disproportionately larger numbers of higher toxicity. Exposure to lead can damage cognitive ability, including a measurable and irreversible loss in IQ points.
Arrests in Connecticut schools dropped 13.5 percent from 2008 to 2011, but hundreds of the arrests made in 2011 were for minor policy violations such as throwing erasers, shouting, or leaving class without permission, a new report says. The report by Connecticut Voices for Children – the first comprehensive study of its kind in the state – also found significant racial disparities in arrest rates: Black students were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested than white students, and Hispanic students were 3.2 times more likely. “The overall number of arrests have declined, which is an encouraging trend,” said Sarah Esty, the report’s author and a former policy fellow of Voices for Children. “However, there remains a great deal of work to be done in terms of students being arrested for behaviors that likely could have been handled without police involvement . .