By Jeanene Dunn, OHM Staff
In our 18th anniversary edition we explore factors that affect families and the places that are part of their everyday lives. Families of all types face a variety of unique challenges in their communities.
The federal government establishes ten-year health goals for communities, individuals and families and works to create awareness about societal factors that contribute to wide health disparities and inequities in certain communities.
The current report, “sets data-driven national objectives to improve health and well being over the next decade.” Social determinants of health—where we live, work, play, worship and age—affect our well-being in five main areas They are as follows.
Everyone who has responsibility for themselves or a family needs to have a steady income that allows them to meet their financial and health needs. An adequate living wage and steady employment that offers benefits can be hard to come by. We see a lot of “Now Hiring” signs everywhere. Employers need skilled labor and many times are open to training someone. Kansas City has local agencies whose mission is to assist with training. Some are The Urban League of Kansas City, Full Employment Council and KansasWorks. They assist job seekers of all ages, career levels and skill sets with counseling, resume reviews, training and more. Thanks to federal funding, public transportation in Kansas City is free. This is a great benefit for families who don’t have their own transportation. A strong public transportation system improves access to jobs and other opportunities. In our special edition, Black Men Speak, KCATA President and CEO, Frank White III, called public transportation the great equalizer. “Part of our responsibility is to connect people with opportunities on both sides of the state line,” White said. “We are proud of the work our agency does to meet the community’s public transportation needs.”
Education access and quality
Underperforming schools in a community can leave children unprepared to pursue higher education and leave them without sustainable job opportunities or prospects. Lawrence, Kansas school superintendent, Anthony Lewis, Ph.D., who was featured in Our Health Matters special edition of Black Men Speak, stresses the need to level the playing field for all students and their families. “Systemic injustices can profoundly impact students’ current and future quality of life,” he says. “Our board, administrators, and certified and classified staff all work together to aggressively and efficiently eliminate inequitable practices, systems and structures that create advantages for some students and families, while disadvantaging others.”
The pandemic has placed additional challenges on educators like Dr. Lewis and his peers regarding student underachievement in reading and math. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)* recently reported that 4th grade and 8th grade math and reading scores are below average across the country. To address these learning loss issues, some Kansas City area schools are calling for volunteers to tutor students in math and reading. Families will need to do their part, too, to support the effort. To view the full report visit: www.naep.ed.gov.
Health care access and quality
Even with the Affordable Care Act in place, there are people who still struggle to afford health insurance. Uninsured or underinsured persons are more likely to not have a primary care provider and are also more likely to skip routine health screenings and treatment for chronic illness. Medicaid expansion was approved in Missouri in 2021. This ensured that more than 200,000 Missourians under the age of 65 could qualify for Medicaid. Kansas is currently pursuing voter support to pass Medicaid expansion.
Increasing the number of persons with healthcare insurance and access to services remains a top priority. During the pandemic, telehealth became—and remains—a popular and important tool for keeping patients and health care providers connected.
Neighborhoods and the physical environment
Consider the neighborhood where you live. Is it walkable? Do you wonder if the water or air quality is safe? Some neighborhoods experience high rates of violence, unsafe air and water, and other health and safety risks. Policy changes at the local, state, and federal level can help reduce these health and safety risks and promote healthier communities.
BikeWalk KC is a nonprofit committed to helping to create healthier and safer streets. Their work with city officials and input from residents has helped to create more walkable or complete streets and bike-friendly neighborhoods.
Social and community relationships
Connecting families with the resources and services they need can have a positive impact on communities. Families thrive when they get the social and community support they need to improve their health and well-being.
What do today’s families look like?
When you do a Google search on the word, “family,” the range of how family is defined is vast. As recently as 1960, single-parent households were not common at all. Now, the U.S. has the highest number of single-parent households in the world, with 80% of those households led by women, according to U.S. Census data.
In addition to single-parent households, families now consist of LGBTQ couples, stepfamilies, grandparents caring for and raising grandchildren, foster families, chosen families, adult siblings raising younger siblings and more.
Society has evolved to recognize, accept and acknowledge nontraditional family structures. They often face the same challenges as any other family.
Family dynamics matter
An unhealthy family can come in many forms and represents the direct opposite of peace, harmony and stability. Family quarrels, grudges and sibling rivalry can have lasting (and devastating) effects, sometimes for years. In a dysfunctional home, there may be no sense of unity or common purpose—or boundaries.
A healthy family is one in which everyone feels safe and respected and boundaries are established and adhered to. That doesn’t mean that conflicts and differences don’t or won’t arise. Addressing behaviors and issues in a positive way can help to keep the family in harmony.
Healthy People 2030 expands existing goals and objectives of these social determinants of health to provide more tools, support and access to resources and services individuals and families need to thrive in their communities.
Sources: Psychology Today, U.S. Census, Health.gov