Medical providers in California and nationwide are increasingly recognizing that racism and discrimination affect children’s health, and they’re seeking to tackle the problem. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its first policy statement on how racism affects the health and development of children and teens. The academy called racism a “socially transmitted disease” with historical origins that continue to affect the circumstances children grow up in, how they’re treated and the opportunities they have today.
African American, Latino and Native American children, for example, are more likely than white children to live in low-income households, lack access to quality education and be involved in the juvenile justice system. On top of this, racism and unconscious bias can lead people such as health care providers, teachers or law officers to treat minority children differently than white children. In turn, children may internalize biased attitudes, leading to negative, self-limiting beliefs about themselves and others, the academy said.
Current anti-immigrant policies and political rhetoric have made the need to address the health impacts of racism on children particularly acute, said Mayra Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership, a California-based health advocacy group. She’s heard from schools, clinics and community organizations about increased incidences of race-related bullying. Alvarez said some immigrant families live in fear of taking their children to the park, local events or even the doctor.
Alvarez said California is making progress in addressing health inequities related to racism. She applauded a bill now before the governor that would require all doctors, surgeons and nurses to receive training on how to reduce bias in patient treatment. Gov. Gavin Newsom has appointed a surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who is an expert on early childhood trauma, including the impact of racism,
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