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); Conference for Catholic Facility Management (CCFM); National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW); National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA); National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD); National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC); and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and Office for Domestic Social Development.
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 about the importance of environmental health issues
in making schools safe aimed at educators, boards and commissions.
Most recently, it launched its mini-grant program to recognize
and promote best practices of environmental safety among Catholic
school boards. CCFM has collaborated with NCEA in promoting
school safety issues. CCUSA has coordinated trainings 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.
- Supported health tracking nationwide. CASE members
spent time learning about the need for a nationwide health tracking
system as a measure of preventing diseases that may be potentially
linked to environmental hazards and disproportionately harmful
to children. With the threat of bioterrorism, the need to enhance
our ability to track exposures and clusters of illnesses has
become more relevant. Legislation was introduced in the 107th
Congress, Nationwide Health Tracking Act of 2002 (H.R.4061/S.2054).
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 its annual conference.
- Spearheaded environmental stewardship in health care. Catholic health care is working to educate and build awareness of the importance of promoting environmental stewardship as standard operating procedure within its systems and facilities. This includes encouraging greater environmental responsibility in the medical products purchased by Catholic hospitals and long-term care facilities and reducing medical and other waste. Representatives from ten Catholic healthcare systems have decided to work together to reduce the use of mercury, a substance known to cause developmental problems in children and the unborn. Other Catholic health care systems are being invited to join in this effort.
The latest addition to CASE is the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, with whom we have begun exploring areas of collaboration.
Most recently, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and the Knights of Peter Claver received funding through CASE for education projects: on pesticides targeting farmworkers and ranchers, particularly young adults; and for environmental literacy campaigns among African-American Catholics, with a focus on youth, respectively.
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 bear a disproportionate burden of the effects of environmental problems, as their lands and neighborhoods are more likely to be polluted, to be near toxic waste dumps, or to suffer from water contamination.
In the face of these challenges, the Catholic community is 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
- 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
For more information on this project, contact Roxana Barillas at 202-541-3445 or email@example.com.