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 (CCFM) 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 and provided other information relevant to educators, boards and commissions about the importance of environmental health issues in making schools safe. CCUSA coordinated a 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. Legislation has been introduced, Nationwide Health Tracking Act of 2002 (H.R.4061/S.2054), which was supported by the USCCB.
- 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, 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 participating Catholic networks are Catholic Healthcare East, Catholic Healthcare West, Catholic Health Initiatives and the Catholic Health Association of the United States.
The Conference for Catholic Facility Management is a critical resource to CASE members. They have been collaborating with articles for the NCEA (IssueGram, Spring 2002, (Get Rid of What(s Bugging You( and NCEA Notes, May 2002, (Control Those Boiler Emissions.().
The National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities is the latest addition to CASE. The organization is concerned with how we can ensure that our Catholic facilities are healthy and safe for everyone, particularly for children and persons with disabilities.
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).
- Urge Members of Congress to support the Nationwide Health Tracking Act (S. 2054/H.R. 4061), which calls for the creation of a nationwide system to monitor, 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, ext. 129, email@example.com
National Council of Catholic Women, contact Sheila McCarron at (202) 682-0334, ext 102, firstname.lastname@example.org
For Further Information
Roxana Barillas, USCCB, at (202) 541-3445, email@example.com