“Every child needs the opportunity to reach his or her full potential and that includes being healthy,” said Elisabeth Burak, health policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families as she discussed several issues at a regional meeting of the Kids Count Coalition held at the Delta Area Health Education Center. 

“Every child needs the opportunity to reach his or her full potential and that includes being healthy,” said Elisabeth Burak, health policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families as she discussed several issues at a regional meeting of the Kids Count Coalition held at the Delta Area Health Education Center.

While Arkansas has made strides toward better health coverage for families and children, 70,000 children in Arkansas still are without health insurance. The Finish Line Project, supported by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Fund, has three major goals concerning ARKids enrollment in the state.

With more than 40,000 children with family incomes below the 200 percent poverty line eligible for ARKids, most are not enrolled and represent half of the uninsured children in the state.

The AAFC is working with the Department of Human Services and the Finish Line Coalition to find and enroll the children. The coalition also wants to increase the number of children eligible for ARKids by expanding eligibility guidelines from the 200 percent poverty line to 300 percent of the poverty line. The last initiative would develop a program for those above the 300 percent poverty line to buy insurance through ARKids.

Burak says that keeping children healthy will avoid chronic illnesses and adult
diseases. However, a problem still persists because less than 30 percent of children enrolled in the state’s Medicaid or ArKids program receive required preventative health screenings. Many schools do not meet standards for nurse to student ratios and almost half of the state’s kids live in communities without fluorinated water.

Burak continued to champion for children’s health addressing the state’s child obesity problem. Almost half of all children enrolled in public schools are obese or are at risk of being obese, said Burak.

Not only is the obesity rate among children staggering, Arkansas also has the highest child death rate in motor vehicle accidents for ages 16 to 20 in the nation with rates twice the national average. A legislative action committee has set some recommendations for teen driver’s licenses that should appear later this year. Some of the recommendations include offering teen drivers different levels of licensure with night driving, cell phone use and passenger restrictions.

Statistics show that the state also sends more children to inpatient psychiatric facilities than any other state. The KCC says that state has 6,000 children per year in bed-based care for mental problems instead of evidence-based programs in a community setting.

“Basically, it sets the child up for a lifetime of institutionalization, whether it be prison or a mental hospital,” said Burak.

Priorities for the KCC for the next legislative session include an expansion of ARKids First to ensure all children in the state have health insurance, expanding coordinated school health to improve child health based on community and school priorities, improving children’s mental health and behavioral healthcare system, improving child and youth safety on roadways and ensuring all children receive comprehensive health screenings and treatment.

Better health for children offers them a better chance in life said Burak, including the ability to attend and be productive in school, fewer chronic diseases as an adult, less crime and drug use and tooth decay.

The KCC is suggesting that individuals wanting to see healthy children in the state to contact a legislator and ask for an expansion of the ARKids program so that every child has health insurance, fund more school nurses, expand substance abuse programs and fluoridate all water supplies in the state.

People interested in fighting for better health care for children at a local level can volunteer or start a local wellness committee in the school districts and participate in a hometown health improvement effort.

The Daily World