Public Policy Archives
Children’s Health and the Environment
Children’s bodies, behaviors, and size make them different from and more vulnerable than adults to many environmental health hazards. Also, because children are exposed to environmental hazards at an earlier age than adults are, they have more time to develop slowly-progressing environmentally triggered illnesses such as asthma, certain cancers and learning disabilities. Exposure to air pollutants and toxins is significantly more harmful to children, but children in poverty and children of color are at a disproportionate risk, with routinely higher rates of lead poisoning, and asthma-related deaths and hospitalization.
In an effort to develop the leadership of Catholic institutions to help address environmental hazards affecting children’s health, a coalition of major Catholic organizations and networks formed the Catholic Coalition for Children and a Safe Environment (CASE).
CASE is made up of the following members: Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA); Catholic Health Association (CHA); Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI); National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW); National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA); National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC); Conference for Catholic Facility Management and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
CASE has been making significant progress in finding ways to integrate children's health issues into the larger mandates of their organizations. Specifically, it has:
- Promoted leadership development. The NCEA has published
articles and provided other information relevant to educators,
boards and commissions about the importance of environmental
health issues in making schools safe. CCUSA coordinated training
for housing counselors from 50 dioceses around the country on
environmental health issues related to housing and advocacy
strategies for clients and their communities. The NCCW continues
to expand its outreach and advocacy by distributing materials
to its members and through its participation with a Jewish counterpart
in the Interfaith Partnership for Children's Health and the
Environment, a campaign in four states (CA, FL, IL, PA) to find
ways to protect children from environmental harm.
- Supported health tracking nationwide. CASE members
spent time learning about the need for nationwide health tracking
system as a measure of preventing diseases that may be potentially
linked to environmental hazards. The USCCB, the NCEA, CHA, the
NCRLC and the NCCW lined up institutional support for such a
system. CHA also supported other similar legislation on chronic
illness with a health tracking component. CCUSA provided testimony
during a hearing of its Social Policy Committee (Children and
Families) at their annual conference.
- Spearheaded environmental stewardship in health care. The Catholic health care system is working to educate and build awareness of the importance of promoting environmental stewardship as standard operating procedure within the healthcare sector, in particular encouraging greater environmental responsibility in the medical products purchased by Catholic hospitals and long-term care facilities, thus influencing the medical supply market to provide environmentally safe products. The following Catholic networks participate in this effort: Catholic Healthcare East, Catholic Healthcare West, Catholic Health Initiatives and the Catholic Hospital Association.
As Catholics, we are called to participate intimately in sustaining God’s creation by caring for our children and their physical environment. Caught in a spiral of poverty and environmental degradation, the poor and the powerless most directly bear the burden and suffer disproportionately from the effects of environmental problems, as their lands and neighborhoods are more likely to be polluted or to host toxic waste dumps, their water to be undrinkable, their children to be harmed.
In the face of these challenges, Catholics are an integral part of learning more, caring more, and doing more about the environment and the threats to it, and to our children. “For generations, the Catholic community has reached out to children … We have defended their right to life itself and their right to live with dignity, to realize the bright promise and opportunity of childhood. Now we renew this commitment and build on it. We seek to bring new hope and concrete help to a generation of children at risk.” Putting Children and Families First, p. 17
What Can You Do
Find out what groups and organizations in your community are working on issues related to children's health and the environment. Map your community in terms of known or potential hazards. Find out what chemicals are released in the community through the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data available to the public.
Pay attention to media coverage pertaining to children and the environment (e.g. incidence of asthma, childhood cancer, children's exposure to lead, pesticide use in public areas like parks and school facilities, housing and building code violations).
Make your understanding and concerns about the health of the environment and the health of children known to your community, state and national leaders. Identify the agency, commission or legislative body responsible for ensuring children are protected.
Create a coalition of key individuals and groups in your community regarding children's health and the environment. Potential members include: pediatricians, family medicine physicians, nurses, public health professionals and academics, health department officials, child advocacy groups, parents, PTAs, environmental groups/coalitions, youth groups, health organizations, civic groups and clubs, business and industries, and other religious communities.
- Urge Members of Congress to support funding for the creation of a nationwide health tracking system to respond and prevent chronic diseases potentially linked to harmful environmental exposures, particularly on children.
- Urge your local and state authorities to fund initiatives intended to assist schools to provide an environment free of health hazards.
- Putting Children and Families First: A Challenge to Our Church, Nation and World
- Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching
- Make the CASE for Children’s Health: Catholic Coalition for Children and a Safe Environment
- Catholic Charities USA, contact Carol Peck at (703) 549-1390 x129 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- National Council of Catholic Women, contact Sheila McCarron at (202) 682-0334 x102 or email@example.com
For more information on this project, contact Roxana Barillas at 202-541-3445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.