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Lawmakers Urge Policies To Address Child Development Disparities (Gongwer Ohio)

By: Gongwer Ohio

A group of lawmakers on Wednesday outlined the need for policies focused on the state's early childhood system to factor in racial and socioeconomic equity.

The panel discussed the issue during a virtual event on a new report by the early child advocacy group Groundwork Ohio, called Drafting a New Blueprint for Success, that points to the need for state policies to attempt to address development gaps.

Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus) and Sen. Dave Burke (R-Marysville) discussed ways policymakers can view state issues with an eye toward the challenges and opportunities afforded to Ohioans of different backgrounds

Policy to support access to services needs to consider whether people can adequately make use of those services, Rep. Crawley said.

"When we talk about access to health care, it's not just insurance. We have to talk about access to providers who understand," she said.

She pointed to work she has done in the maternal health space, including legislation to expand the role of the Pregnancy Associated Mortality Review Board (HB 434) and to provide Medicaid reimbursement for doulas (HB 611). She also encouraged lawmakers to pass a resolution (HCR 31, SCR 14) declaring racism a public health crisis in the state.

"Over the past year as we've been dealing with COVID and social unrest, racism has been at the forefront and really trying to address it. We can't make changes until we address it head-on," she said.

Sen. Burke, who has held hearings on the Senate's version of the resolution in the Senate Health, Human Services & Medicaid Committee Trackhe chairs, said he hopes to have more discussion on it because it has helped educate lawmakers about the effects of racism on everyday lives.

"Every child in this state should start off in the same starting blocks and be given the same opportunity," he said.

Sen. Antonio said efforts to dismantle systemic racism are important to developing policies that will address gaps in development among Ohio's children. She compared the learning efforts by lawmakers on racism to that needed to consider addiction as an illness.

Issues such as disparities in early childhood development can be a centerpiece of the next state budget, she said.

"We talk about the budget being a moral document. It shows what the priorities of the state are, and I believe in this next budget, along with things like being able to pay for doulas through the Medicaid budget and some other things, that there are things we can do to have that budget reflect the priorities of the state," she said. "Those priorities have to be our children, our babies, our mothers, especially in those communities of color."

Lynanne Gutierrez, assistant director and legal counsel for Groundwork, said the group's research found that a child's development is often based on conditions such as their race, family's income or ZIP code.

"Gaps between children in poverty and their higher income peers emerge much earlier than our state and federal policy recognize and continues long into adulthood," she said.

Poverty rates among Black children don't fully explain the disparities, pointing instead to structural racism as a significant hindrance on their development, she said.

What is needed are policies based on equity, that provide extra support for those with greater needs, she said. Policymakers also need to focus on younger children.

"We have to continue to target policy and investments in the first five years of life, but also really focus specifically on that prenatal to three space to stop gaps before they begin," Ms. Gutierrez said.

Other recommendations from the report's process of outreach and study include the need to support the early education and health profession, ensuring families and parents have their voices heard in policymaking, being more aggressive in collecting data and measuring progress and engaging in new partnerships across sectors.


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