Inspire and be inspired…that was the charge to the Children’s Health Fund (CHF) leaders from across our national network as we kicked off a three-day conference in Miami on October 16th. And inspire we did! Over the course of the gathering we listened, learned, and shared about what’s working in our efforts to break down health care access barriers for our country’s most vulnerable children. This year’s content was exceptional, participation was robust, and the learnings just keep coming – even after the conference concluded.
While it is difficult to call attention to any one presentation, practice or learning, there were some exceptional program discussions that stood out, and, as always, we all walked away with the assurance that our body of knowledge is continually improving through this network and community of practice.
Telehealth was a hot topic and our hosts Dr. Judy Schaechter and Dr. Lisa Gwynn, representing the award-winning CHF Southern Florida program, set the stage by showcasing how the mobile medical clinic is using innovative new technologies to bridge the access gaps for poor kids. For example, using telemedicine, pediatricians can connect with specialists as the mobile clinic moves from school to community center – seeing kids where they live, learn and gather, right from their offices. This time savings allows a child to get back to school, and a parent to get back to work, with reduced delays.
Children dominated the immigration discussion which was looked at from both a policy and practice perspective. Dr. Alan Shapiro and Brett Stark, Esq., reported on their Terra Firma program, the groundbreaking medical-legal partnership that is turning heads with its success rates – not only making young people healthy, but effectively representing them in immigration courts and winning asylum cases.
Our Public Policy team kept us all abreast of the threat to vulnerable children that the proposed changes to “Public Charge” policy would cause. Based on this cruel concept, immigrant families are now on notice that their residency status may be jeopardized for availing themselves of the benefits of programs like Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps). Key takeaway: If this harmful policy is enacted, it would undermine access to health care and other needed services for our nation’s most vulnerable children. The fact is that in the USA today, immigrant children comprise the largest remaining cohort of children lacking insurance coverage. The policy needs to be revised to ensure that all children, regardless of immigration status, have appropriate access to health care and supportive services.
Our work with young people also moved center stage with workshops on trafficking, foster care, and homelessness, each intersecting with this increasingly important group of children we serve. I learned that almost 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ and that suicide rates among these marginalized teens are skyrocketing. But as bad as the numbers seem, there is hope and our programs in Detroit, Houston, Nevada, Orlando, Phoenix, and San Francisco are all on the front lines with programming that brings kids back home and greatly reduces the risk of suicide.
Looking back at the three days of programming, I was reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King when he said, “…the time is always right, to do what is right.” In bringing these words forward, I applauded each of our leaders and their programs, specifically recognizing how they live these words every day. This is the spirit keeps us moving forward, despite what appear to be setbacks, because we know that our work is critical to the thriving of our children, our communities and our country. Yes, we agreed, it’s a long road – but yes, we will continue to do what is right for kids!