By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) provides a plan designed to help U.S. children achieve health equity.

The authors called for paid family leave as well as housing quality and safety, food security, and financial stability to help all American families protect their children’s health and well-being from the prenatal period into early childhood.

“To achieve health equity and reinforce it in our policies and practices, it is crucial to consider the connection between adverse childhood experiences, health, and resilience,” Jennifer DeVoe, chair of the study committee that wrote the report, said in a statement. “Investing in early childhood pays off later. It represents our best chance of breaking vicious generational cycles of inequities and helping children become healthier adults.”

The report includes several recommendations, some of which may be easier to achieve than others. For instance, eliminating systemic racism and discrimination that affect access to proper education, employment, and healthcare opportunities is a long-term, ongoing problem. Conversely, providing more early care and education programs (along with access to and awareness about such offerings) may be a little easier. Other recommendations include expanding evidence-based home-visiting programs and promoting cross-sector collaboration.

Sadly, plenty of children not only have to deal with social issues outside the walls of their homes that affect their well-being, children also face dangers in places where they are supposed to feel safe. The July issue of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Reports notes that approximately one in five children evaluated in the ED are physically abused. Children younger than 1 year of age are the most susceptible to abuse. Nearly 70% of child abuse fatalities are in children younger than 3 years of age.

Prolonged boarding of pediatric psychiatric patients is another problem. The August issue of Medical Ethics Advisor notes that pediatric psychiatric visits increased by 28% between 2011 and 2015, according to the authors of a recent paper, with the largest increases in adolescents, African-American, and Hispanic patients. Researchers also found a large increase in suicide-related visits among adolescents and noted that just 16% of patients were seen by a mental health professional.

As one source put it: “This is unequal treatment … our society undervalues the importance of mental health, and, thus, underfunds mental health services.”

“The single most important factor influencing a child’s healthy development is having safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with his or her parent or primary caregiver,” the authors of the NASEM report wrote. “Therefore, ensuring mothers have ongoing supports for maintaining good mental health and psychological well-being is critical.”