Friday, July 9, 2010

How can I "pull myself up by my bootstraps" if I don't have any bootstraps?

Despite spending two solid years doing nothing but grad school papers and grant proposals, I must admit I really enjoy doing research. I love pawing over breaking news and obscure articles trying to find something new and exciting that I can share with everyone. I have been told that this impedes my efforts to shed my nerdy image.

This morning I was perusing the Associated Press breaking news and I stumbled across this headline:

Minority children have fewer advantages
Seriously? It took a nationwide survey to determine this?

To give you some background, professionals who work with young people were surveyed. The professionals were asked to rate how many advantages were available to the youth clients they served. They asked these professionals about access to quality health care, education, safe homes and neighborhoods, and community support. Not surprisingly, it was found that white youth have more advantages than Latino/Hispanic, Arab American, Native American, African American and Asian American/Pacific Islander youth.

To be completely honest (since reading this on the Internet isn't exactly the same as a face-to-face conversation) I am a white woman. Yesterday at the latest Sonoma County Peer Outreach Coalition meeting, we unexpectedly spent a great deal of time discussing the fact that I happen to be facilitating a group of culturally, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse youth.

Like many other professionals, I strive to be more culturally sensitive. Despite our efforts, I often see many professionals with the attitude that those experiencing tremendous hardship simply need to "work harder" or as I have heard all too frequently "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." Perhaps this survey was needed now more than ever. If I don't have the same opportunities and everyone else, how can I work hard enough to achieve the same outcome? How can I "pull myself up by my bootstraps" if I don't have any bootstraps?

The other interesting fact mentioned in this survey is that children of all ages from low-income families, regardless of race, have less opportunities than those from middle-class to upper-middle class households. Once again, this feels like "Your delivery of obvious has arrived" but I do think it warrants repeating. This is why nonprofits committed to ending the cycle of poverty are more important now than ever.

You may now be feeling I have overstayed my welcome on my soapbox, or have at the very least failed to connect this survey to the mission of the SCPOC: promoting awareness about mental health issues and risks for mental illness. Although not explicitly mentioned in the survey, the lack of opportunities mentioned can all put youth at risk for mental health problems.

  • 21% of low-income children and youth ages 6 through 17 have mental health problems

  • 13% of children from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds receive mental health services

  • 88% of Latino children have unmet mental health needs

  • 85% of children and youth in need of mental health services in the child welfare system do not receive them

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Youth who have been exposed to violence in their homes and communities, such as witnessing or being the victim of physical or sexual abuse, drive-by shootings, muggings, or other disasters, are at elevated risk for the following mental health disorders:

  • depression


  • anxiety

  • conduct disorders

  • eating disorders

It is time for everyone to really consider how poverty impacts youth. It is time to stop assuming that people in low-income households simply need to work harder to have the same opportunities as everyone else. It is time to recognize that lack of quality health care, violence in the home and/or community, and lack of community support can have a devastating outcome on the mental well-being of an entire generation.

I implore you: what can we do about poverty?

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