Child Watch® Column:
Healing a Child's Broken Heart

Release Date: May 15, 2015

Marian Wright Edelman

It’s always very challenging for a parent when their child has a serious health condition. It’s even more challenging when their child has a serious condition but has no health insurance to cover the needed care and emergencies. Both were true for one Texas mother whose 12-year-old daughter Evelyn was diagnosed with a heart defect. Evelyn often ended up at her school nurse’s office complaining of shortness of breath. When the nurse encouraged her mother to take her in to the doctor, Evelyn’s mother, who bakes cakes for a living, explained that Evelyn was uninsured and she couldn’t afford the specialist fees that ran into the hundreds of dollars per visit. But the nurse had attended a presentation for school district staff on the importance of connecting students to available health coverage and knew she could put Evelyn’s family in touch with an outreach worker from the Children’s Defense Fund-Texas office to help her apply for insurance.

CDF-Texas helped Evelyn’s mother with her application and with the critical follow up after the first application was misfiled. Once those steps were taken the family was rightfully approved and Evelyn was finally able to obtain the health care she desperately needed. Soon after she had open heart surgery to replace a non-functional heart valve. Specialists at the Pediatric Heart Clinic told Evelyn’s family she was very lucky to have had the surgery when she did. Her mother says, “It was not about luck, it was a blessing!” Evelyn’s family says they feel happy and blessed to have had help applying for health coverage when it seemed they had no hope.  

Evelyn is one of millions of children whose story now has a happier ending. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Medicaid program, which together with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has brought the number of uninsured children to an historic low. Medicaid and CHIP provide comprehensive and affordable health coverage to more than 44 million children—that’s 57 percent of all children in America. With the new coverage options offered by the Affordable Care Act, 93 percent of all children now have health coverage.

But we can never stop working to reach children like Evelyn who haven’t yet been connected to coverage. More than 5.2 million children under age 18 were uninsured in 2013. The over- whelming majority live with working parents and are citizens. More than a third live in three states—California, Texas, and Florida. Uninsured children are more likely to be children of color, children ages 13-18, and children who live in rural areas. More than half —3.7 million—are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but not yet enrolled.

That’s why CDF continues to work, in partnership with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, to encourage school districts to help get all students the health coverage they need to learn and succeed in school. Our goal is to make school-based child health outreach and enrollment a routine and ongoing part of school district operations. The model is built around a basic question districts add to their school registration materials: “Does your child have health insurance?” Parents who answer “no” or “don’t know” are flagged and receive information from school district staff on Medicaid, CHIP, or other health coverage options. But it doesn’t stop there. Parents also can receive application assistance and often are introduced to community partners to help them successfully navigate the enrollment process the way Evelyn’s mother was connected in Texas.

CDF-Texas with its partners pioneered this technique in the Houston Independent School District almost a decade ago and since then CDF and AASA have partnered with districts in California, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi, including small and large, urban, rural, and suburban school systems, serving elementary through high schools with a rainbow of  Black, Latino, Asian, and White students. Superintendents, principals, teachers, school nurses and other staff have gained a clearer understanding of the critical links between children’s health, school attendance, and ability to achieve in school. Many are now leading public education efforts to engage parents and the broader community in events geared to health and wellness. Keeping children healthy is a win for everyone.

Kavin Dotson_CWC.jpg
Dr. Kavin Dotson

As Dr. Kavin Dotson, Director of Student Services for the Lynwood Unified School District in California, put it at a recent convening at CDF Haley Farm in Tennessee, “we were unaware of the fact that there were so many students in our district that did not have health insurance.” He now believes that “every school in our country is going to make a 100 percent commitment to ensure that all students are enrolled in some type of health insurance that will meet their health needs.” 

You too can take action now to spread the word about the importance of health coverage in your own communities with help from the Connecting Kids to Coverage national campaign. Through the end of this month it has print materials and TV and radio ads in English and Spanish that you can customize to reach parents and others assisting children. Children can enroll in CHIP or Medicaid at any time.

How frustrating it is that at the very same time we are celebrating Medicaid’s long and successful history and the recent bipartisan two-year CHIP funding extension and building on successful outreach and enrollment strategies, these critical child health programs are under attack in Congress. The fiscal year 2016 budget resolution proposes deep cuts in Medicaid and structural changes in both Medicaid and CHIP that will jeopardize their reach and make it even more difficult for many more children like Evelyn to get the coverage and care they desperately need. But there’s still time to demand that Congress stop the cuts and efforts to dismantle the structure of Medicaid and CHIP. Why would they fool around with something that is working so well for parents and children? All of us must work together to move forward not backwards to make sure all children get the health care they need to live and learn and thrive.

Click here to share your comments and find out what others are saying.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by peanut at: March 9, 2017
I had three sons. one was darker than the others and I notice the principle at the elementry school he started was always picking on him. she would put him in the Library and make him look at the walls when I found out I tried to talk to her but she was bent on abusing him so I moved him to another school. He was treated better. We as parents have to know what is going on with our children.especially our black young men. He now has a Masters degree and a good job. Being a single black mom was very hard, there was times I had to quit good jobs to stay home to watch my sons.

Submitted by Debbie Reese at: August 23, 2015
Teachers, parents, librarians: if you want to add books by Native writers to your shelves, here's lists of ones that don't misrepresent who we are:

Submitted by Jodyann at: July 17, 2015
Dr. Stayhorn's words are powerful and coming from a lived realiyty in this country. I am so sorry we have such a deep seated problem of racism and injustice for those who are "different" by our cultures determination. Sorry, but everyone is different, and everyone deserves a chance to live and move and have being. WE MUST CHANGE OUR WAY OF PERCEIVING THE OTHER.

Submitted by Gayle at: July 13, 2015
We must dismantle the assessment industry that dictates policies, practices and procedures in public schools that "educate" poor children of color. Students have become bits of data that "educators" analyze in the hopes that they will discover a way to get Johnny to score better on high stakes assessments. A good teacher does not need a battery of assessments and multitudes of data meetings to determine whether or not Johnny can or cannot read.

Submitted by Bro. Charles at: July 12, 2015
Salute to Brother Ndume Olattushani! May the ancestors continue to heap blessings upon you and your mission to reach our Black boys before they enter the "pipeline." You are not alone! Brothers in the "struggle." Hotep!

Submitted by Jerome at: July 12, 2015
Politicians and criminal justice/law enforcement officials target African American and Latino youth for the sole purpose of supporting the economics structure of mass incarceration. Youth needs to know the truth about the many traps, swindles and pit falls politicians, criminal justice officials and business institutions have erected and put into place for our youth. Jerome Livingston "Redeem Yourself"

Submitted by Firstlady at: July 12, 2015
I read the articles on a regular basis and many of the hit right where it hurts. This particular article is just one in a long series of articles that show us how words can hurt. As a child we I used to hear older people sway word do not hurt but they do. But we know that someone can say something to us at a certain time and point in our lives that will torment us forever. What I find hard to believe is that now days with more knowledge and information there are less resources and less people who actually care. Perhaps a softer way to say it is the few who are trying to help are over worked, tired and worn out. If there are those who for what ever reason are not physically able to do the hands on, provide support in what ever way you can. The old adage "every little bit helps" works in this case in helping to change the direction the young black males in our community are going. Many of them find themselves in horrifying situations where just a pair of shoes or socks could make a difference. In families where relatives and grand parents are raising these children are where I have found the most disparity. Resource that are supposed to be available to these families are just that "supposed to be available." I think that it is excellent what this gentleman is doing for our future generation, but he can not do it alone. There needs to be more of us joining together, networking and sharing information and resources to Save Our Sons. HELP.

Submitted by Jean at: July 10, 2015
A very strong message. My hat goes out to this artist who is giving inspire of so much taken away from him. God bless you and the Children's Defense Fund for this awareness.

Submitted by antone at: July 3, 2015
Such thoughtful, insightful words.

Submitted by Sarah at: July 3, 2015
Thank you Ms. Edelman. I am furious. I am full of a furious love for our nation. As a youth, I questioned in my mind why my parents (White) had not participated in the Civil Rights movement. Recently a relative voluntarily excused herself, saying she was in North Dakota so it did not reach her. I reject that. I am now almost four decades old and the persistent, incessant racism in my home community against our Native American sisters and brothers remains. As it was during the Civil Rights movement and before. And now I am told that the Charleston murders weren't related to race. That the young man was just crazy. (No doubt of that...what better way to describe the KKK). And still, there is a suffocating silence about this terrorist act and the terrible church arsons. There is a shaming and neglect of those who need love and solidarity. Looking to those most aligned with my political views, I call them Lazy Liberals. This racism is everywhere and is all of our problem. Ms. Edelman, thank you for your words. I am listening and I am doing. Much love.

Submitted by Doctor at: June 19, 2015
very powerful information ,my wife and I is raisIng a three years old grandson

Submitted by Caroline at: May 24, 2015
Instead of spending money on research, trying to figure out how to better serve the children in foster care, why don't we put it into the people who take these children into there homes. Foster parents are expected to care for them without the pay rate they deserve. Foster parenting should be considered a career choice. No one else who works for the welfare system would work for less than $1.00 per hour. Yet Foster parents do. Then they have listen to hurtful comments stating that they "do it for the money". Well of course they need money to do it . It takes lot of money to raise a child. I've worked in group homes and am a foster parent. It's a shame on our society the way children in foster care and Foster parents are treated. Social workers are overworked also. Too many on their caseload. You want help to figure out how to better serve our children in care, talk to Foster parents, you gain more iSight than any commitee can give you.

Submitted by Lisa at: May 22, 2015
I too am concerned about over medication and good foster care, but would like to share an additional insight. Most children with severe mental illness are unable to be served in therapeutic residential treatment facilities UNLESS they are on Medicaid. Private insurance will NOT cover it. For parents with severely mentally ill children this can lead to sure ending custody to the county or state. Once in custody, they are medicaid eligible and can access facilities. But then parents are no longer guardians. These severe cases cannot always be maintained in home and are then placed in foster care which no doubt increases the number of highly medicated kids. We need to fight for more and better residential treatment facilities and fund them! We need to require insurance to cover such rehabilition hospitals. Underfunded institutions are closed for failures that could be remediated with appropriate funding. Please know that some of these children truly are ill and need the medicine AND a structured therapeutic environment. We were a family with a child with schizoaffective disorder and needed him in a residential facility. We tried to relinquish custody and even brought charges against him hoping for court ordered treatment.

Submitted by Dr Mike at: May 17, 2015
Since 2014 our Congress always seems to have money for making new wars, chasing the weapons of mass confusion with uranium loaded bombs, bullets, that poison both our soldiers and the foreign lands. Why? Follow the money. Defense contractors need wars to keep demand steady. Their generous wallets keep Congress throwing taxpayer cash. Children don't have the cash to bribe congress. Those who founded our Nation wrote prolifically to warn against such corruption.

Submitted by Sundance at: May 16, 2015
What a wonderful, caring and compassionate nurse. It can make all the difference in a child or young person life.

Submitted by Shep at: May 16, 2015
Congress must stop these dangerous cuts to Medicaid and CHIP. We live in the richest country in the world, there is no reason we can't allocate resources to care for our children.

Submitted by Anonymous at: May 16, 2015
I'm so proud of the work the CDF is doing nationally. Keep up the good work. Never let up!

Submitted by Debj at: May 15, 2015
When it comes to congress caring for our children, it is an uphill battle. Too bad they see something is working and then make it harder to obtain. Maybe all person's working in Gov't should live 24 hours with a family that struggles to meet the most basic of needs. They should eat what the family eats and sleep where they sleep and work where they work, if they have a job. They might see things in a different way. The way things really are.