As England waits with bated breath for their newest royal baby to arrive, I can only think that every baby should be greeted with the same revelry. The pealing of bells and frenzied crowds of well-wishers shouldn’t be reserved for royalty. After all, every baby born has the potential to go on to perform noble acts, from treating the sick, to helping the poor, to teaching children, to becoming parents of their own little princes and princesses someday.
Unfortunately, many babies in the United States are robbed of reaching their potential before they even get the chance to sing “Pat-a-Cake.” Poverty jeopardizes their well-being, and diminishes their access to safe housing, education, medical care, and of course, food.
A child in the United States is more likely to go to bed hungry tonight than a child in Malta, Croatia and even Cyprus. (Unicef, 2014) While our national economy towers over these smaller nations, they still find a way to put food into the bellies of their littlest citizens.
The most recent data reports that 27 percent of children in La Porte County live in poverty. (KidsCount, 2018) (In 2018, poverty is defined as a household of four with income no more than $25,100, according to the U.S. Dept. of HHS) In a classroom of 25 children, seven of them are likely living in poverty.
While our nation grapples to address child poverty, we’re pretty good at making millionaires. According to Business Insider, which reported these findings from Credit Suisse last year, 1 in 20 Americans is a millionaire. Just think of how the time value of money will help that wealth grow exponentially. A good chunk of those millionaires are bound to cross the threshold into billionaire status.
Now, reflect back to the nearly 1 in 3 children in our community who are living in poverty. Just as wealth grows exponentially, so does poverty. Impoverished children are less likely to have ready access to food, let alone proper nutrition.
They may be “couch surfing” which is by definition not homeless, but certainly unstable. They miss out on after-school opportunities to participate in the yearbook staff, Spanish Club or track because they have caregiving responsibilities for younger siblings, may be out earning income to help support the family, or may not want to be out on the streets after dark because they live in a crime-ridden neighborhood. They may be left unsupervised for long periods of time or overnight because their parents are working.
All of these challenges present risks to children, and can negatively influence their school work, ability to be engaged in school and focused on academics and limit their freedom to enjoy healthy peer relationships and school activities. It’s hard to plan for a future beyond high school when you can hardly plan for what will happen the day after tomorrow.
The belief in the American dream is that with hard work, determination and perseverance, each of us can accomplish anything we set out to do. But some children, by no fault of their own, have more obstacles to overcome to achieve it. These children need the encouragement and support of parents, educators, faith leaders and community resources and they need a caring community to lift them up so they can reach their potential.
While the world can’t come to a standstill to await the birth of each baby, we can each do our own part to help the little ones within our own lives thrive and feel worthy of royal treatment.
Encourage women you know who are hoping to become pregnant to reduce potential harm to a baby by quitting smoking, drinking or using drugs.
If you are pregnant, get prenatal care early and follow your physician’s advice. Keep up with well-baby check-ups and immunizations, and follow guidelines for your own health screenings and check-ups. Model a healthy lifestyle by making healthy food choices, getting ample physical activity and sleep. Let your children see you reading and enjoying books, magazines or newspapers. Talk to your baby – he or she may not understand the words yet, but babies love the sound of a sweet, kind voice. Spend quality time together as a family by reading, playing games, walking and even doing household chores together. Always wear a seatbelt and adhere to the safety guidelines for your child’s safety restraints.
Give your children positive affirmations that show you are proud of who they are; love them and let them know you’re happy to be their parent. And, as difficult as it may be to do, give them opportunities to make decisions and reasonable, age-appropriate risks to help them become competent and confident in the world.
These simple behavior modifications can give every child the chance at the American dream and improve the health of America’s royalty, our children.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.