Healthy children and families require strong roots to grow

A home where children are able to grow, learn, and play is at the root of health for young children. Like a tree seedling, a child’s health needs a stable location, supportive environment, and access to vital resources to thrive. This means having a stable home in a neighborhood connected to opportunity where parents can afford rent without sacrificing other necessities so they are able to better nurture their children.

Unfortunately, however, we know this vision of home is out of reach for many families with young children. Over one-third of families with infants and toddlers that Children’s HealthWatch interviews in primary care clinics and emergency departments reports housing instability or homelessness. These families who are falling behind on rent, moving frequently, and/or are experiencing or have experienced homelessness are at-risk of adverse child and adult health outcomes and financial instability. It is not difficult to imagine why so many families with low incomes face housing instability and the sequelae of health consequences. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) estimates that nationally, there are only 37 homes available that individuals and families with the lowest incomes are able to afford.

While parents dream of providing the best opportunities for their children, federal, state, and local policies as well as structural and institutional forms of racism have driven inequities in housing and health. Current systems are deeply seeded in unequal access to opportunities that lead to housing stability and positive health. Collectively, over time, we have created these inequities. Now is the time for us to collectively dismantle them.

Children’s HealthWatch has a 20 year track record of producing research that informs policies that address and alleviate economic hardships and improve health. As we enter the next decade of our organization’s history, we have committed to ensuring that we are actively responding to the racial inequities that drive economic instability and adverse health outcomes among families with children. Through our commitment to building racial equity, we acknowledge housing policy has been used to perpetuate structural racism throughout our nation’s history. We believe all children should live in a stable home, which they need to achieve optimal health. To accomplish this goal, we know we must work with others to elevate policies that seek to ensure families live in homes they can afford and to chip away at the structure inequities built into the fabric of our nation.

This is why we were honored to work with NLIHC, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Make Room (now a program of NLIHC) to create and launch the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign. Through this multi-sector, national campaign, led by NLIHC, we seek to advance policies that promote equity through targeting resources to people and families with the lowest incomes in our country so that one day everyone will have an equal opportunity to thrive.

At the helm of this important work is Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which is why we are honoring her this year with the Children’s HealthWatch Champion Award. Diane has committed her career to working with communities across the country so their voices are amplified in federal policy debates and structural inequities in housing policies are dismantled. She is a respected voice on the federal and state level and a champion of solutions that improve housing stability and promote health. We are grateful for her leadership and partnership in this space and look forward to continuing to stand with her and her team at NLIHC until all children live in homes where they may thrive.

Megan Sandel, MD, MPH is a pediatrician and Co-Lead Principal Investigator at Children’s HealthWatch. Allison Bovell-Ammon, M.Div, is the Director of Policy Strategy.