Giving Kids a Chance!

Last week something rare happened to me at a work-related event – I cried. To be precise, I was moved to tears by the story of a mother struggling to give her kids their best chance despite living in poverty. The event was ‘Place Based Strategies: A Community Dialogue on What Works, which looked at the social pediatric initiative, RICHER (Responsive, Intersectoral- Interdiscplinary Child Health Education and Research). The initiative is attempting to address family poverty and child development in the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona neighbourhoods. The event was sponsored by Ray Cam, Network of Inner-City Community Services Society and Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society (ALIVE).

The mother’s story made real the barriers that we hear or read about on the news and in research statistics. She described how difficult it is to trust professionals “behind the desk and in their fancy clothes” when you’ve been sexually abused, you’ve been removed from your family, you’ve been accused of being difficult by teachers and social workers and you have a file, a foot high, with the state’s records containing observations and judgments of you.

I realized that this woman was describing not only how stressful it is to make ends meet and provide the basics for your children when you’re living in poverty, but also how terrifying it is to ask for help from someone who may have the power to take your children away from you.

What we know about the health of people living in poverty or from other marginalized communities is that they experience lower rates of good health and have heightened risk for chronic disease. Much of this is due to social and economic factors – such as employment, income, education, and discrimination but also includes access to, and utilization of, health services.

Geoffrey Canada, CEO of Harlem’s Children Zone, one of the best-known examples of a place-based strategy, described it as “making a net so tight that no child can fall through.” As one of the speakers at the Vancouver event explained, “place based strategies promote people-centered, participatory service delivery, listening to local aspirations”.

BCAHL is particularly interested in the RICHER model because it addresses the issue of access to health in a group that has significant challenges, while at the same time responding to the expressed health needs of that community. And because health practitioners are involved with the community agencies that operate locally, and because they are all accountable to the community members, there is an opportunity to act on some of the social and economic issues facing clients at ongoing dialogue tables.

According to research on the model, “survey data show that the RICHER approach does foster access to primary healthcare for children and families facing significant poverty and multiple forms of social and material vulnerability.” BCAHL sees this as a good reason to take the principles from this model and use it in other areas of the province, which also have high concentrations of people facing similar challenges to stop the cycle of poverty and ill health, particularly among children, before it repeats itself.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy and Communications
May 2012

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