Once again, inspired by the New York Times. Specifically, by Nicholas Kristof, who wrote a deep and meaningful column entitled When Even the Starting Line is Out of Reach. Kristof shared a story of a young child who, growing up in poverty without easy access to services, didn't get the early medical care and interventions that would have helped him in a timely manner. Kristof uses this story as a basis for arguing for early interventions, for helping pregnant women and for investing in young children, so that more children--especially those in poverty--can start life on the right foot.
This got me thinking. What would compassion, focused on young children, in particular those in poverty, look like--at all levels? What would wanting to help, and acting to help, look like? Let's look at a couple of the levels from previous blog posts:
--Exam rooms: Physicians and staff would consistently pay attention to, and address, social determinants of health that affect patients and families. Does a pregnant woman have access to healthy food? Is the family's apartment healthy and safe for the child, or will mold constantly aggravate asthma? What is mom's (or dad's) educational level, and does he/she want to go back to school? While these issues are undoubtedly on many clinicians' radar, they may not realize that they can make a difference...by connecting families to community resources. Hooking a pregnant mom up with WIC. Referring a family with landlord problems to Legal Aid. Giving a parent information about a GED program. Distributing Reach Out and Read books. And so much more.
--Health care system: A compassionate health care system would not only allow but encourage its providers to take time to address social determinants of health and to advocate for families in the community. Administrators would support system-wide programs such as Reach Out and Read and Health Leads. Administrators would ensure that the system has an active presence in community initiatives revolving around young children and their families, as well as issues related to poverty. Not just paying lip service to these populations and issues during community health needs assessments, but actually collaborating to help them and to address them.
--Community level: A compassionate community would work to provide resources and services to help its most vulnerable families, and to help young children thrive. Food pantries. Family literacy programs. Libraries. Free/affordable parks, swimming pools, youth sports activities, YMCA's, etc. Affordable medical and dental care, for those without insurance.
--Government Level: Government-level (state and national) compassion would mean policies that support pregnant women and families with young children. Consistent funding for women's health programs, so low-income and uninsured women have access to care before, during, and between pregnancy--regardless of citizenship or state they live in, and including contraceptive services. Because we know if we keep mom healthy, her babies are more likely to be healthy. Policies and funding that support high quality early intervention and preschool programs. Policies and funding to support adult education and job training programs, so that moms and dads have more options to learn and earn their way out of poverty.
Oh yes, there's lots of room for compassion, at multiple levels. Kristof's column is a reminder of the difference that multilevel compassion, focused on young children and their families, could make.