The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
September 18, 2014

Climate change: A child policy issue?

September 18, 2014

I’ve spent the past 30 years working on child and family policy. My work focuses on children, particularly those from low-income families, and “ways to improve children’s well-being and their opportunities for success later in life,” to quote from my bio. This has meant studying economic mobility differences between blacks and whites, the school readiness of poor children, the effects of the recession on children, and, most recently, the kids’ share of the federal budget.

Sometimes sitting at a desk doing policy analysis is not enough, and in the 1990s, my interest in improving children’s lives led me to become a foster parent.

My priorities were clear. Others could work on international affairs, or environmental policies, or other big problems of the day, but I was working for better opportunities for low-income children, at home and at work.

Back then, I was sometimes frustrated that “tree huggers” took time and money away from the social and economic justice issues that affected children in this country. I’d say to myself: “Yes, protecting the environment is a good thing, but couldn’t some of the money and attention spent on spotted owls and rare tree frogs go to caring for human children?”

I now see environmental concerns differently. Climate change is not just affecting polar bears in the Arctic, but also us humans worldwide. As we see more flooding and droughts, more intense hurricane and storms, poorer air quality, less available drinking water, and threats to agriculture, we’re facing  serious risks to human health. Furthermore, research has shown that children are “particularly vulnerable to adverse health effects from environmental hazards” and “will disproportionately suffer from the effects of heat waves, air pollution, infectious illness, and trauma resulting from extreme weather events.”

The elderly and those with chronic conditions also face higher health risks, but it is our children who face the prospect of seeing the earth become an increasingly harder place to live over their lifetime. And judging from asthma rates—which are disproportionately high for poor, black children—and the hardships faced by poor communities of color during Hurricane Katrina, children from low-income families and children of color are at particular risk.

Of course, people are not the only ones affected by climate change, and climate change is much broader than a child policy issue. But I now realize that if I want to work to improve children's well-being and their opportunities for success later in life, I can't just work on improving Head Start and addressing child poverty. I also need to join with climate scientists and environmentalists in working on climate change. That's why I'm traveling to New York City this Sunday, to participate in the People's Climate March. Held on the eve of the UN Climate Summit, the march is expected to bring together diverse groups of people - including at least one child policy analyst.

Photo: Eric Cote /Shutterstock

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Comments

Thank you, Julia, for your work on children's economic well-being as well as your concerns for the environment. I have often leaned toward concern for the environment and now understand more completely how that work is helping us all. Travel well.

Thanks for a very inspiring example of how issues of poverty & climate are inter-connected.