Category: MCH Advocacy

An Island in the Midwest: Illinois’ Abortion Policies

Author: Esther Bier, MPH candidate in Community Health Sciences and Maternal and Child Health

Illinois is an island in the Midwest for abortion access. Surrounding states such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan all have more restrictive abortion legislation than Illinois. Wisconsin mandates state-sanction counseling and a 24-hour waiting period before someone can terminate their pregnancy1. Indiana recently outlawed the common and safe second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation while permitting medical providers to refuse to participate in abortion care services2. Meanwhile, a recent bill in Ohio would ban almost all private insurance policies from covering abortion care3. And in Michigan, telemedicine is prohibited from managing medical abortions – an issue critical for rural and poorer pregnant people4. Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin all require that a parent or guardian give a minor permission to have an abortion. Kansas and Minnesota require parental consent from both parents5. Considering the sea of abortion restrictions in states surrounding Illinois, it is no wonder that more than 5,500 out-of-state pregnant people travelled to Illinois to receive abortion care in 20176.

In contrast, a person can receive an abortion in Illinois without completing state-mandated counseling, a 24-72 hour waiting period, or a government-required ultrasound. Crucially, while minors are not required to provide parental consent to access abortion, they are required to give notice to a parent, legal guardian, grandparent, or stepparent. On the surface, such a policy may seem reasonable, with the intention of improving communication and support between parents and children. If minors need parental support to attend a field trip or fill a cavity, surely they should be required to consult a parent about their choice to have an abortion. Many supporters of the law use their own children and their hypothetical pregnancies to bolster their support: “I would want my child to talk to me, wouldn’t you?” or “I should be involved in my child’s healthcare, as is every parent’s right”.

While such simplistic statements seem reasonable on the surface, one must consider the law’s dangerous implications. Minors who feel comfortable discussing their desire for an abortion with a parent do not need a law forcing them to do so. Conversely, minors who feel unsafe telling a parent they are pregnant and obtaining an abortion likely feel scared for legitimate reasons. Minors might fear violence or abandonment from a parent if they are discovered to be pregnant. They might be kicked out from home. They might fear retaliation in the form of economic abuse or neglect. Consider the fact that state-mandated dialogue between minors and their parents do not yield a supporting and communicative relationship. The state of Illinois is therefore placing these minors in highly unsafe terrain by forcing them to tell their parent or guardian that they are pregnant.

Enter the Judicial Bypass Coordination Project by the ACLU of Illinois. Minors who do not qualify for a legal (like if they are married) or medical emergency exception can have the parental notification requirement waived by a judge. The ACLU provides free legal services to minors who seek such waivers as well as a hotline service for callers to receive information about the program. I am a volunteer on this hotline every other week for two and a half hours. Volunteers are trained to understand the details of the parental notification law as well as how to discuss such intricacies for young people likely in the midst of a lonely and scary struggle. While receiving a legitimate phone call from a minor looking for legal services is uncommon during my shifts, it is important that the hotline exists and is ready to provide answers to pregnant people and their significant others in need.

I recently attending the ACLU of Illinois annual luncheon to celebrate their successes and the legal battles ahead. The hotel ballroom was packed with roughly two thousand people and a stage filled with headliner performances. Speech topics ranged from immigration to trans rights to voting access. In my own experience, abortion is not directly mentioned in large gathering such as this; lesser charged language such as “women’s rights” or “reproductive freedom” is used. I was therefore surprised when multiple speakers directly mentioned abortion access as a current and pressing issue for the ACLU. Representative Jan Schakowsky spoke passionately about repealing the Hyde Amendment (the federal law that bans federal money from paying for abortions) and making abortion care more accessible. She received a round of applause when she said that “Roe was not the beginning of abortion in the US, it was the end of women dying from abortion.” Similarly, Colleen Connell, the executive director of ACLU of Illinois, spoke of the nation-wide attempt to reverse Roe – the very law that allowed so many people access to jobs, income, and professional development. Roe underpins the right to access appropriate medical services, to raise or not raise a child, and to bodily autonomy and education. Reversing Roe would signal an end to personal freedom and devaluation for all people who can become pregnant.

This is why I volunteer for the Judicial Bypass hotline and the ACLU: everyone deserves the right to live the life they chose. Access to healthcare and insurance should not be dependent on one’s zip code and immigration status. Everyone should enjoy bodily autonomy, regardless of age. If there is one concept I have learned during my first year as an master of public health student, it is that the health of an individual impacts the health of the larger society. When people are given the tools to succeed, their communities prosper and their health outcomes improve. This is what public health is fighting for and why I am in the fight for the long haul.

 

 

  1. Carafem. Abortion Access in Wisconsin. Carafem Web site. https://carafem.org/abortion-access-in-wisconsin/. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
  2. Gupta P. Indiana Strikes a Blow to the Heart of Abortion Access. The Slot Web site. https://theslot.jezebel.com/indiana-strikes-a-blow-to-the-heart-of-abortion-access-1834303489. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
  3. North A. The Controversial Abortion Bills Sweep the Country this Week, Explained. Vox Web site. https://www.vox.com/2019/5/10/18564436/ohio-abortion-bill-law-alabama-georgia-details. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
  4. Guttmacher Institute. State Facts about Abortion: Michigan. 2018. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/state-facts-about-abortion-michigan.
  5. Planned Parenthood. Parental Consent and Notification Laws. 2019. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/preventing-pregnancy-stds/parental-consent-and-notification-laws.
  6. Leventis Lourgos A. More than 5,500 Women came to Illinois to have an Abortion Last Year Amid Growing Restrictions in the Midwest. The Chicago Tribune. November 20 2018. Available from: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-abortion-numbers-illinois-out-of-state-20181129-story.html.

Young Feminist Conference

Authors: Esther Bier, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health & Nadezh Mulholland, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

On a rainy Saturday morning at the beginning of October, four hundred (mostly) young people gathered at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters in Fulton Market for the Young Feminist Conference, hosted by the organization Cause the Effect. By 9AM, the hall was filled with youth, eager to discuss the day’s topics. This particular Saturday also happened to be the same day Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Emotions were raw as participants discussed the inescapable swirl of news surrounding sexual violence from recent weeks. To be gathered in a room with so many hopeful young people felt particularly poignant on such a grim day.

This sentiment was shared by Bridget Gainer, Cause the Effect founder and Cook County Commissioner of the 10th district, who gave opening remarks and a review of her organization’s mission. Cause the Effect seeks to increase political engagement among women, with a focus on empowering high school and college-aged youth. Cause the Effect hosts an annual Young Feminist Conference, a free space for feminists of all ages to learn about and discuss current issues relevant to women’s and LGBTQ+ liberation. To further strengthen feminist political involvement, the organization founded a political action committee to support and endorse local women candidates.

The first panel, moderated by Sarah Karp (a WBEZ contributor), discussed sexual violence and harassment and the recent Chicago Tribune exposé about sexual abuse in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The panel was composed of survivor advocates, an anti-violence social worker, an educator, and CPS parent. They did not parse words when demanding CPS transparency and accountability, and offered the audience support and suggestions for how to manage sexual violence. The second panel, ironically dubbed “Everyday Feminism from Four Bad Feminists,” featured some of the most creative, successful, well-spoken, and driven people imaginable. All women of color, panelists included a previously homeless engineering company CEO, a WNBA champion, a Harvard-enrolled tech CEO, and an eighteen-year-old running for DuPage County Board. The women spoke about their successes in male-dominated fields, motivation during trying times, and support systems.

The last panel addressed Chicago gun violence with a southside attorney, a youth-home worker, an assistant state’s attorney, and an anti-gun violence advocate. This panel gave way to a heated discussion about the source of violence in poor, primarily black neighborhoods on Chicago’s southside. While one member believed violence is partially the result of families failing to teach children how to peacefully resolve conflict, another member pushed back stating violence is primarily caused by systemic racism, over-policing, and disinvestment. In spite of this rift, panelists were united by the belief that the name “Chiraq,”used to highlight southside violence reminiscent of the Iraq war, creates an inaccurate representation of daily life in southside neighborhoods, demonizes black people, and erases vibrant community life.

Tonika Johnson, a photographer from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, served as a meaningful example of southside pride. Members of Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), of which Johnson was a founder, felt frustrated by the monolithic representation of their Englewood as a violent and despondent community. RAGE collaborated with Englewood Rising to display billboards around Englewood of fathers kissing their children, people playing, worshiping and working – an Englewood story many Chicagoans had not heard. RAGE also hosts So Fresh Saturdays featuring food, music and celebration, reminding community members that parks and green spaces are theirs to use. In doing so residents proved that Englewood is not merely a site of violence and poverty but one of hope and pride.

Reclaiming your own narrative was a salient theme throughout the panelists and speakers. Participants were encouraged to speak their minds even when their opinions might be unpopular. Whether about sexual violence, neighborhood violence, or policing, everyone has the right to truthfully define their own lives and communities and reject the narrative of outsiders. This message seamlessly blends with concepts discussed in our public health courses about intentionally creating space for communities to set their own priorities and dictate their needs. Considering the history of health officials using communities of color and erasing their voices, this conference served as a helpful reminder about how to examine our own biases and operate as an ethical public health practitioner.


How Feminism Made me a Voter

Author: Isabella Litwack, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

When I turned 18 years old, I did not vote in the 2012 election. This crucial birthday fell when I was in the middle of my senior year of high school. My true belief at the time was that voting was a useless waste of my time, and my singular vote could never possibly fix a system that was so terribly broken. As I write this as an almost 23-year-old, I know that this attitude came from a place of privilege. I was thinking from the standpoint of someone who grew up white, upper-middle class, educated, healthy, and soon going off to college with no loans taken out. Maybe I felt like I didn’t need to vote because I was living in a system that was actually somewhat working for me. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of my college career, when feminism and activism became a major part of my life, that I realized my previous views about politics and voting were misguided. Although I had begun to recognize my privilege, I also was learning exactly what being a woman in America, specifically in Indiana, meant. I began reading books about feminism, culture, and health, and a cord within me struck. Then, Trump became President and I realized how much of a difference all of those singular votes could have made, especially after realizing that about 100 million people did not vote at all (Ingraham, 2016). After the election, I knew I had to be an advocate for reproductive justice, the physical, mental, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, and I knew exactly where I was going to do it.

Planned Parenthood (PP) is probably my grandmother’s favorite organization in the world. My entire family supports PP proudly, and I could not wait to see how I could help (little did I know how much PP would get me politically involved). When I came to Chicago, I joined a Planned Parenthood group on campus, and became a Planned Parenthood Illinois Action (PPIA) volunteer. On January 24, I volunteered for their Roe v Wade anniversary fundraiser, where the theme was “Act. Vote. Win!”. The event featured political leaders, state representatives, aldermen, and people who hope to take a local office in the upcoming Illinois elections. One of PPIA’s main focus points of the year is to encourage people in Illinois to vote, specifically for someone who has PPIA’s stamp of approval. They showed a video of the women’s march, and other events that happened in 2017, and inspired the crowd to make their way to the poles in 2018. Trump’s election made me truly realize how important it is to vote, but this event solidified that belief even more. That election also showed me the importance of voting beyond presidential elections, such as congressional /and local elections as well. Policies that shape and determine women’s health vary vastly from state to state and it is critical that folks show up to the polls and vote for candidates that will protect women’s right and women’s health. If every young person believes what I used to believe, that their vote couldn’t possibly change anything, then we are losing a significant number of votes from people who could make an impact on any election. If people vote for what they believe in, they can be active participants in their communities, and see the changes that they feel are important to them.

References:
Ingraham, C. (2016). About 100 million people couldn’t be bothered to vote this year. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/12/about-100-million-people-couldnt-be-bothered-to-vote-this-year/?utm_term=.b734b3a9acfc


Dr. Rebecca Singer’s Insights on Gender-Based Violence and the Role of Public Health

By: Amanda Wojan, MPH(c)

Gender-based violence, defined as violence against a person due to their gender, is a significant problem that affects countries around the globe. On November 15th, 2017 Dr. Rebecca Singer, UIC Nursing faculty, spoke at the School of Public Health regarding the impact of gender-based violence in various countries that she has worked in through Doctors without Borders, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Papua New Guinea. Many people tend to think that gender-based violence, such as sexual violence, is a “bigger problem” or more prevalent in developing countries. However, as Dr. Singer stated, this type of violence occurs everywhere, and is an ever present problem in the United States as well. Further, gender-based violence is often used interchangeably with talk of sexual violence/assault against women. Although this is a common type of gender-based violence, it encompasses much more, including violence against men (European Institute for Gender Equality).

Despite the broad scope of gender-based violence, we know that women are particularly vulnerable. According to the WHO Department of Gender, Women and Health, women and children are particularly affected by disaster situations, accounting for more than 75% of displaced persons. Subsequently, women are often left more vulnerable than men during disaster situations, as they face increased risk of reproductive and sexual health problems and increased rates of sexual and domestic violence. Dr. Singer discussed themes along these same lines throughout her lecture, stating that women are often expected to take on caretaker roles in times of disaster (such as at refugee camps), but face severe challenges in doing so. This vulnerability tends to emerge due to lack of resources (women may need to sell their bodies to provide food for their families) and a lack of infrastructure in place to promote safety.

Dr. Singer told stories of women who were beaten or sexually assaulted by partners, family members, and/or strangers. Many only had the Doctors’ Without Borders Clinics that she helped coordinate to receive the critical services they needed following an assault. These services included medication to prevent pregnancy and/or STI contraction (ex: post exposure prophylaxis), mental health counseling (when funds were available), and a medical certificate documenting the assault. Despite the important role these services play in helping survivors of gender-based violence, they often do not address the root cause of the problem: gender-based violence is a perpetual issue in many societies due to sexism and persistent gender disparities. So what can we do to improve this issue around the globe and promote a society that condemns gender-based violence? Dr. Singer named a few strategies that have emerged throughout her work:

❖ Educate perpetrators on what constitutes sexual assault and gender-based violence.
➢ Dr. Singer stated that in her experience, some perpetrators do not realize that what they are doing constitutes gender-based violence.
➢ Change the narrative! Give people alternatives to violence when they are having a disagreement with a partner.
❖ Incorporate wrap-around services for survivors of sexual assault that encompass mental health care and advocacy.
❖ Empower communities to engage in grassroots efforts.
➢ Let the communities lead!
➢ Evidence shows that grassroots efforts that work from the bottom up make meaningful and sustainable behavior change possible in communities (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003).
➢ Engage women as full and equal partners in community based action, and ensure that they are involved in the highest levels of planning and decision-making, particularly when it involves their own health and reproductive rights.

Dr. Singer emphasized that in many communities in which she worked the providers that worked at these support clinics were also survivors of gender-based violence themselves. Thus, they are the experts, positioned to provide powerful insight on how to combat this violence within their communities. As one clinician Dr. Singer worked with stated, “We are all survivors”. This is public health: harness the power of the people in the communities – they have the knowledge and the tools.

References

European Institute for Gender Equality. Retrieved from http://eige.europa.eu/gender-based-violence/what-is-gender-based-violence

Mathie, A., & Cunningham, G. (2003). From clients to citizens: Asset-based community development as a strategy for community-driven development. Development in practice, 13(5), 474-486.

Singer, R. (2017). Sexual Violence in Conflict and Non-conflict Settings: Challenges and Opportunity. [Lecture]. Retrieved on November 15th 2017.

WHO Department of Gender, Women, and Health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/gender-equity-rights/en/


MCH Student Op-ed: Don’t call it universal without including abortion coverage

By: Vidya Visvabharathy, MPH (c)

As Sen. Bernie Sanders prepares to introduce a universal health care bill in the next few weeks, many progressives who support a universal single-payer program worry about its effects on abortion access. Can we win Medicare for all while protecting hard-won reproductive rights? As a woman of color, a reproductive rights advocate, and graduate student of public health, I recognize the importance for marginalized groups to stand in solidarity for progress to happen. I urge single-payer advocates to push to repeal the Hyde Amendment as part of our fight for truly universal health care.

It’s no surprise that the majority of Americans support a national health program. Although the U.S. spends twice as much on health care than other industrialized nations, key health outcomes such as life expectancy and infant mortality fare much worse as compared to our international counterparts. Most of this difference in spending can be traced to our fractured, profit-based insurance industry, which wastes nearly a quarter of our health care dollars on billing, advertising and profits, none of which contribute to quality of care. In contrast, a single-payer health program is a universal health care model that is publicly financed and covers all Americans for medically-necessary care, such as doctor visits, hospital stays, long-term care, and drugs.

Single-payer has been a long-standing progressive cause, and would seem to have no problem gaining support from all progressive groups. However, many women’s advocacy groups are hesitant to back a single-payer system because it could restrict access to abortion. The Hyde Amendment, passed in1976 after the landmark Roe v. Wade case legalized abortion, bans all federal funding for abortion services except in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment to the mother. Therefore, a single-payer program could not fund abortion, unless explicitly stating that reproductive and abortion services would also be covered. Single-payer advocates should ally with women’s advocates and work to repeal the Hyde Amendment to increase support for both causes.

Progressives can learn a lot from efforts to enact single-payer programs at the state level. For example, in November 2016, Colorado lawmakers tried to enact a health care system similar to single-payer, known as ColoradoCare. However, NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) opposed the plan because it would leave more than 550,000 women without access to  abortion services due to the state’s constitutional ban on funding for abortions except for life-threatening circumstances. Many women who have access to abortion services through private insurance plans would have lost this coverage under ColoradoCare. According to a statement by NARAL, the bill “is not truly universal” since it does not guarantee abortion services. Ignoring reproductive health caused ColoradoCare to lose key supporters necessary to win universal care.

The statewide single-payer legislation in New York serves as a promising model that explicitly incorporates reproductive services in the health system. The program, known as New York Health, covers all medically-necessary services that are currently covered by the state Medicaid program, including abortions. Diverse health organizations such as New York State Family Physicians and the Reproductive Health Access Project were heavily involved in crafting the bill from the start, underscoring the need for single-payer and women’s health groups to build legislation together.

In order to avoid the mistakes of ColoradoCare at both the state and national level, single-payer groups must explicitly advocate for coverage of abortion services, and work with reproductive health advocates to repeal the Hyde Amendment. While it is laudable that the single-payer advocacy organization Physicians for a National Health Program recently released a statement supporting abortion coverage, supporting causes ideologically is not enough. Reproductive health services, including abortion, must be explicitly written into any single-payer bill. If we want a universal health care system, it must be a system that covers comprehensive reproductive services as well.

Vidya is an MPH student completing her degree in MCH-Epidemiology. Her research interests include women’s health and reproductive justice. In the future, she hopes to practice as a physician-advocate for marginalized populations in Chicago. 

This article was originally posted on KevinMD at the following link:

http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2017/09/dont-call-universal-without-including-abortion-coverage.html


Where is the M in MCH? – March for Moms, Washington DC. Mother’s Day 2017

Katia Garland (left) and her mother, Meghan Garland, attend the Mother’s Day March in Washington D.C.

By Katie Garland, MPH
Alumna, UIC School of Public Health, Community Health Sciences and Maternal Child Health
Visiting Research Specialist, UIC Center for Research on Women and Gender

Thirty years ago, researchers asked “where is the M in MCH?”(Rosenfield & Maine 1985) Today, we are still asking ourselves the same question. Since 1980, infant mortality declined 52% in the US but during the same time, maternal mortality rose, defying global trends (Centers for Disease Control, MacDorman, Declercq, Cabral & Morton 2016). The US now has the worst maternal mortality ratio in the industrialized world (Kassebaum et al 2016, MacDorman et al. 2016). Maternal mortality does not affect all populations equally; Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die than White mothers (CDC Foundation 2017).  Maternal mortality is a fixable problem; other countries have succeeded in dramatically lowering their rates. We know that at least half of maternal deaths in the US are preventable (CDC Foundation 2017). However, maternal health is woefully underfunded compared to infant and child health.  Only 6% of MCH block grant funding is devoted to maternal health (Martin & Montagne, 2017). In a political climate where severe cuts to public health programs and the social safety net are likely, it is critical that maternal health advocates and stakeholders gather together and demand action. And gather we did.

On Mother’s day, over 100 maternal health stakeholders gathered at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC to march for America’s mothers. The best part of the march was the diversity of stakeholders that were involved. Representatives from ACOG, AABC, AWHONN, ACNM, and multiple nonprofits spoke at the march. Health practitioners, academics researchers, doulas, advocates, and families were all in attendance. The speakers discussed a wide range of maternal health topics including maternal mortality in the US and globally, postpartum depression, perinatal disparities in Black and Native communities, preterm birth, and stillbirth.

Some of the most powerful words came from Jennie Joseph, CPM and executive director of Commonsense Childbirth.

“I challenge you to reexamine how you think about what’s happening. This is not new. The system is broken and has been for decades. Let’s stop blaming the women. Let go of the judgement, the shaming, the discrimination, the stereotypes. Become aware of the conscious and unconscious biases that shape our OB care today. Recognize that these outrageous statistics cannot stand year in and year out without the acknowledgement or the impact of racism, classism, sexism. It’s killing our babies. It’s killing our mothers. “

The march was also an excellent opportunity to network with other maternal health stakeholders. I was able to discuss my current work in maternal health and make connections with researchers and advocates in many different areas of maternal health. The organizers hope to hold another march in DC next year.

Advocacy was another theme of the march. Attendees were encouraged to meet with their senators and representative before and after the march. Currently, there are bills in the House and Senate that would designate funding for maternal mortality review committees and grant funding for state projects addressing maternal mortality disparities. This is a critical step to ensuring accurate nationwide surveillance of maternal mortality. However, it is just the first step to addressing the broader issue of maternal mortality. In order to really prevent maternal deaths in the US, a variety of changes will need to happen. Equitable access to affordable, quality healthcare (including family planning), a robust social safety net, investments in the health of communities of color, and paid family leave will all help save the lives of the 700-900 American mothers who die every year.

 

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control. Deaths: Final Data for 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf
  2. CDC Foundation (2017). Report From Maternal Mortality Review Committees: A View Into Their Critical Role. Retrieved from: https://www.cdcfoundation.org/sites/default/files/upload/pdf/MMRIAReport.pdf
  3. Kassebaum, N. et al (2016). Global, regional, and national levels of maternal mortality, 1990–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. The Lancet, 388(10053), 1775 – 1812. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31470-2
  4. Macdorman, M. F., Declercq, E., Cabral, H., & Morton, C. (2016). Recent Increases in the U.S. Maternal Mortality Rate. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 128(3), 447-455. doi:10.1097/aog.0000000000001556
  5. Martin, N., & Montagne, R. (Writers). (2017, May 12). Focus on Infants during Childbirth Leaves U.S. Moms in Danger [Transcript, Radio broadcast]. In Morning Edition. Washington DC: National Public Radio.
  6. Rosenfield, A., & Maine, D. (1985). Maternal Mortality-A Neglected Tragedy Where is the M in MCH? The Lancet, 326(8446), 83-85. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(85)90188-6

 


Early Childhood Justice: Moving Forward

On October 18th 2016, experts in housing, health and employment; students, and early childhood advocates met at Loyola University’s Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law to discuss progress, explore new data on the race and poverty disparities of health, and develop a trajectory for future research in the field of early childhood health. This conference, titled, Justice from the Start: Exploring Racial Disparities in Access to Services for Babies and Toddlers, included keynote speaker Olivia Garden, Executive Director of Loyola’s Center for Law and Social Policy, and featured Dr. Aisha Ray, Professor Emeritus at Erikson Institute.

In Chicago, Hispanic children are two times as likely to be born into poverty, and among African American children, this statistic increases to three. The mission of Shriver Center is to “promote justice, and improve the quality of life and opportunities for upward mobility for those living in poverty.” To best identify and address the needs of our most disadvantaged communities, advocates must approach system change with the application of a “race lens.” As Olivia Golden presented: young children of color are the poorest population among children aged 0-3; and a child born poor, is more likely to become an adult who is poor.

A theme throughout the conference was the intersection of race and poverty and their impacts on health of young children and their families. Early exposure to poverty impacts the lives of children in many direct and indirect ways. Increased food or housing insecurity, a lack of health care services, racial discrimination, and limited proximity to early childhood centers compound the challenges faced by young children and their families. Those who are invested in the fight to break the cycle of poverty in Early Childhood to break the cycle of poverty: must prioritize racial justice. This approach will impact the lives and stability of parents, and as a result the health and wellbeing of their young children will be improved.

Participants explored the importance of structural racism and equity in the development of policies, services, and programs targeting the needs of infants and toddlers. In Chicago, across the United States, race remains a controversial subject, and racism as a barrier to health needs to be included in our nations dialogue of health equity. Structural and institutional factors, such as early childhood education centers or screening programs, influence childhood health outcomes; however, we need to recognize how we exclude the most at need when we frame future laws and policies. The following are examples of policies that impact health equity in Early Childhood:

  • Proximity of high quality, bi-lingual early childhood programs to the infants and toddlers most in need;
  • Policies which allow the expulsion or suspension of preschool-aged children;
  • Implicit bias and lower expectations of children and families of color;
  • Quality of programs or curricula used with children in poverty and of color.

Beyond recognizing the many challenges and barriers Early Childhood advocates face, participants had the opportunity to discuss areas where we can advocate. With an accumulation of research focusing on equity in early childhood, there is an increasing wealth of data that can be leveraged to strategize future steps. To reduce structural racialization and implicit bias, we can target different levels of change. Through personal and interpersonal change, individuals become more effective in relating to others and interpersonal conflict in reduced. Individuals and groups can collaborate to address structural and systemic inequities, such as biased hiring practices and promotion, policies, and a lack of inclusive institutional cultures. Participants then discussed how to address these systemic inequities. The following are some examples of proposed strategies:

  • Improve data collection to make up for inconsistent data
  • Focus on structural racism systemic inequality rather than personal prejudices
  • Broaden the representation of diverse individuals and communities most affected by early childhood policies and programs
  • Develop a highly qualified, culturally, racially, and linguistically diverse early childhood workforce.

We are tasked with the responsibility as professionals in early childhood to challenge these barriers to equity. With further research and a greater understanding of new data on race disparities in early childhood, advocates can ensure that all children have equal access to services, regardless of their race or poverty status.

Written by: Paula Satariano, MPH Candidate 2018 and Irving Harris Early Childhood Scholar


CDC’s Millennial Health Summit to End Health Disparities

Kera (CoE in MCH Student) with others at the summitAs a public health nerd, who follows the Center for Disease Control and Prevention with as much love and fervor as National Football League fans, I was excited to notice a flyer posted on campus about a free conference at the CDC. The Millennial Health Leaders Summit is a two day intensive training for graduate and medical students to network, learn, and explore case studies about addressing health disparities. My heart dropped when I read that only two representatives would be chosen to attend. “What are the odds that a first year master’s student would be selected?” I thought disparagingly. The application was simple: in 300 words or less answer “What will be the most important public health issue confronting communities that experience health disparities in 2025? What will you be doing in 2025 to address and reduce these disparities?” I wrote my essay in a caffeinated stream of conscience. My deep-seated anger at the smear campaign on Planned Parenthood and the ongoing war in America to limit women’s access to reproductive healthcare finally had an outlet. The essay I constructed is without a doubt my personal manifesto.

One month later I forwarded an email with the subject line of “Congratulations on your acceptance to the Millennial Health Summit” to my adviser with my own addition on the top in all capitals that simply stated, “I GOT IT” followed with six exclamation marks.

I attended the Millennial Health Summit just three months later. I met several Maternal and Child Health majors from across the country. We compared classes, professors, and how our programs were set up. It was a fantastic networking opportunity with the students and presenters from around the country. I learned so much from this conference but here are my top three takeaways from the Summit:

  • Cross Collaboration is key. There was an urban planner who pointed out all of the ways that the poor planning of our cities creates obesity. One cannot fight obesity with just education. We have to work with urban planners, architects, and the department of transportation to create environmental change. He also pointed out if you can partner with the department of transportation to create more bike lanes or parks you have made your city healthier without even touching your public health budget!
  • Advocacy requires both qualitative and quantitative data. Paula “Tran” Inzeo from Family Living Programs, a health promotion specialist from Wisconsin conducted a breakout session, stating “you can have the data, but it is real people’s stories and voices that have the power to move mountains. The example was in their advocacy work to open alternative court systems in Wisconsin. They had all the facts and figures detailing how mass incarceration was a problem in Wisconsin; however, it was the voice of a veteran who had been helped directly by a substance abuse court that helped him get his life back on track with alternative sentencing of mandatory substance abuse treatment and community service rather than jail time.
  • I learned so much through the process of getting there. This is my biggest word of advice to master’s students- apply and try. Just try. I really did not think that I would be selected and even if I had not my 300 word essay is by far the piece of writing from my graduate career. I submitted it as my sample writing for several job applications that I was subsequently offered. More importantly it provided me with an opportunity to think beyond graduate school. It made me stop and think about what issue is most important to me, what aspect of that work do I want to be doing, and what position do I want to host in ten years. Once you think deeply about your priorities you can be selective with your time and energy. You can draft a plan of attack on how to get to your dream job. I highly recommend anyone of any profession to do this writing exercise for their professional development.

Written by Kera Beskin, MPH Candidate 2017 


Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units: Creating a Better Environment for Children

PEHSU LogoFor the past 15 years, Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs) have been advocating in communities around the country to educate people about children’s environmental health.  As a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) these centers employ health care professionals who are devoted to informing and assisting communities in understanding the role that the environment plays in childhood health outcomes. PEHSUs are committed to protecting this vulnerable age group from the harmful effects of environmental hazards and toxic substances, with a focus on reproductive health in an effort to prevent the detrimental effects of certain exposures very early in development.

The Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is one of the PEHSUs that is responsible for providing services to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin (Region 5) along with a unit in Cincinnati, Ohio . The UIC center strives to:

  • Work with communities and parents to teach, support, and interpret results of environmental hazards
  • Provide clinical services for children with environmental health issues
  • Provide technical assistance to public health and environmental agencies on children’s environmental health issues
  • Train pediatricians, environmental and occupational medicine physicians, medical toxicologists, and other health professionals about children’s environmental health
  • Conduct research that helps prevent children’s environmental diseases

The center is under the direction of Dr. Susan Buchanan who focuses on environmental and occupational medicine, and is a Clinical Associate Professor as well as the Director of the Occupational Medicine Residency Program at UIC. Besides pediatric and reproductive environmental health, her research interests include health outcomes of minority, low-income, and immigrant workers. The center is also staffed by a variety of health care professionals including environmental/occupational physicians, pediatric/family physicians, medical toxicologists, pediatric health nurses, and industrial hygienists. The center recently added a reproductive health care professional which has greatly improved the outreach to pregnant women who are at risk for environmental exposures negatively affecting their unborn children.

The staff educates and consults with communities and parents on a wide variety of topics, including climate change, second-hand tobacco smoke, air/water/soil contamination, heavy metal exposures, pollutants, allergens, and pesticides, among many more. Annually, the center reaches 6000-7000 attendees at 75-100 presentations with additional consultation through 150-200 individual phone calls. Through their work they are creating a better environment for young children and their communities.

For more information about the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health at UIC you can visit their website at http://www.uic.edu/sph/glakes/childrenshealth/.


The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Program at UIC

Group photo of LEND students 2015

The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program is a nationally-acclaimed interdisciplinary training program funded through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) that provides professional students with the tools to address disability within a larger context of health care. There are 43 programs at institutions across 37 states, including one at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), that aim to train like-minded individuals from a variety of fields to work with a range of disabilities, ultimately improving the lives of infants, children, and adolescents.

The LEND program at UIC is a highly intensive one-year training program that incorporates didactic learning as well as hands-on experience. Pulling professional students from a range of disciplines (i.e. public health, social work, medicine, etc.), the program meets once a week for a three-hour lecture that is often supplemented by panel discussions involving community members, past LEND trainees, and children and families with special needs. Further requirements include a clinical session every two weeks led by a developmental pediatrician, 300 hours of research or leadership experience, and a final capstone project providing data to be disseminated to the community. LEND also funds each student to go to one conference during the course of the year.

Two UIC MCH students, Alexandra Ibrahim and Tina Schuh, were accepted into the program this year and shared what inspired them to participate in the LEND program.

Alexandra Ibrahim is a second-year Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Epidemiology student. She was inspired to apply to the LEND program after a presentation by Dr. Kruti Acharya, the Director of LEND at UIC, in the CHSC 511 course last spring. When she worked as a teacher before entering graduate school, she assisted children with various special needs and recognized the gaps in the system that provided these students with the necessary individualized services and support. In her experiences working directly with children with special needs, including a sibling on the Autism spectrum, she became especially interested in working with individuals with disabilities and felt that the LEND program would enhance her career goals in public health, specifically in using epidemiologic data to better inform policy and advocacy to the lives of people with disabilities.

Tina Schuh is a second-year MCH student, who heard the same presentation by Dr. Acharya in CHSC 511, inspiring her to apply to the LEND program at UIC. Tina previously worked for the Peace Corps in Morocco as a Health Educator, and also was the Director of a Boys and Girls Club for two years at an elementary school, where she witnessed similar inconsistencies in addressing the needs of children with disabilities. Her prior experiences with disabilities range from affected family members to nanny positions where she cared for children with special needs. The LEND program has increased her interest in the gaps in mental health services for children with special health care and behavioral needs.

This program is extremely beneficial to young professionals in building leadership skills, networking with other concentrations, and acquiring the tools to work with disability and special needs in a real-world setting. Whether someone has experience in working with disabilities or are relatively new to the field, the LEND program is a wonderful opportunity for exploring how disability is woven into every aspect of our lives and especially among the broader fields of health care, and furthermore, how we can best address and improve the lives of those affected.

For more information about the program you can visit the LEND program website at http://ahs.uic.edu/dhd/lend/.