‘It’s Definitely Concerning’: Cook Children’s Lifts Up Patient Families Dealing With Effects of Inflation
The most recent Community Health Needs Assessment showed that food security, mental health care, preventive care, dental care and transportation were some of the major obstacles for parents.
By Eline de Bruijn
Due to inflation, families across the country are facing higher costs for gas, energy, housing, groceries and other goods.
Teams and leaders who work across Cook Children’s Health Care System have seen the extra stress this has caused patient families. Cook Children’s has resources to assist parents and caregivers through these challenging economic times.
“Needing help is really common, especially due to the pandemic,” said Anu Partap, M.D., M.P.H., Physician Director of Health Equity at Cook Children's. “Lots of families needed extra help or support so that their children would be OK. Reaching out for help can last a lifetime.”
Between one-third to half of all parents in Texas have needed help with food, housing, or their own mental health over the last few years, Partap said.
The Center for Children’s Health, led by Cook Children’s, conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment to guide community programs and collaborations. The 2021 assessment includes surveys of parents, caregivers and community leaders in our service region of Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant, Wise, Collin and Grayson counties. The assessment also includes focus groups, interviews and secondary research.
The most recent assessment, fully completed in April 2022, showed that food security, mental health care, preventive care, dental care and transportation were some of the major obstacles for many parents and caregivers.
“Parents and community leaders shared that much of that was from COVID-19 and now the ripple effect is inflation, which we’re all experiencing,” said Becki Hale, Assistant Vice President of The Center for Children’s Health, led by Cook Children’s. “Families have been struggling so much for so long because of COVID-19. Jobs were impacted and we had all of these issues. Now here’s the aftermath of all of that. It’s another wave of struggle. It’s definitely concerning.”
In 2021, many children went without necessary care, including medical, dental or mental health care, according to the parent assessment.
“Affordable housing, food insecurity – these may impact a child’s ability to learn and ability to receive the health care they might need,” Hale said.
Providing Programs and Community Outreach
The Center for Children’s Health has many programs and resources for community health outreach to children and families in our service area, including programs for oral health, injury prevention, asthma, mental health and adverse childhood experiences.
The Build-a-Bridge program at the Center for Children’s Health aims to help communities in Fort Worth overcome barriers to health care. Build-a-Bridge community health workers said they have reached out to parents who are struggling as inflation ramps up the cost of living, especially for groceries.
“So many people don’t have as much as they used to,” said Community Health Worker Clerbela Valcourt.
Dora Garcia, Program Coordinator for Child Wellness, commended local food pantries for continuing to serve people in need, especially as costs have risen.
“I think people are just spent from the pandemic, and they don’t even have a chance to catch their breath,” Garcia said. “We’re already starting at a negative due to the pandemic and the needs to be addressed. Inflation is keeping us where we’re at. We’re stuck, yet our community partners continue to be there for families as best they can.”
According to the 2021 assessment, 55,750 local children were living in households that “sometimes” or “often” could not afford enough to eat.
“Food insecurity was an issue before, but COVID exacerbated that,” Hale said. “Now with the rising cost of food, I think that will continue to be a major concern.”
Resources for parents and caregivers are available at 211 Texas; Tarrant Cares and TXT 4 Tarrant Cares. TXT 4 Tarrant Cares is a community texting service that makes it easier for local families to find the help they desperately need, close to home. Text the word FIND to 67629 to access a list of nearby organizations to contact and ZIP code-specific resources.
Rising gas prices have made it harder for families to take essential trips, whether it’s getting resources or taking children to an appointment.
“Diapers are expensive even when they’re not at an inflated cost, but then you add another cost of transportation to go to a diaper bank and then you have another barrier for access to basic needs,” said Dawn Hood-Patterson, Ph.D., program manager of Community Health and Adverse Childhood Experiences at the Center for Children’s Health.
Cook Children’s Case Management Social Work team provides resources for families on the inpatient floors, emergency department, on-campus Specialty Clinics, and Specialty Programs. Some resources may include access to meal assistance, transportation assistance and lodging assistance. Social workers have continued to see how rising inflation has impacted families of all income levels and they have adjusted some of their resource support to offset the additional financial stress families may experience.
Any family of a Cook Children’s patient is eligible for resources and assistance from a social worker.
“The nation is being impacted which may also affect some of our patients and families more than others,” said Karaya James, Social Work Manager at Cook Children’s. “It is OK to ask for help and our team is ready to have these important conversations with our Cook Children’s families. If we cannot meet the need with our resource support at Cook Children’s, we work to find a solution in the community to better meet the family’s needs.”
This year, James says she has noticed an increase in requests for Cook Children’s medication assistance program and travel assistance, including lodging and gas assistance.
Children with special health care needs or complex needs can be affected if a family is struggling financially. It could be harder for the parent to fulfill their needs, such as driving to appointments or providing a copay.
Supporting Parents and Caregivers
Dr. Partap says it’s important that families are open with their health care providers about how they are managing.
“When we hear that it’s going to be really hard for a family to participate in therapy or medication because of cost or distance or time, we can suggest or look for lower cost or sometimes free options,” Dr. Partap said. “It’s not easy at first, but it’s important for your child’s health.”
The 2021 assessment data show that most parents said that they are experiencing more stressors and are having a harder time coping.
According to the assessment, 57% of children ages 3-5 have a caregiver who would say they are coping “very well” with daily parenting demands, which is lower than the national percentage of 63%. The local rate in the eight-county service area is also lower compared to Texas benchmarks before and during the pandemic.
The assessment also showed that fewer parents have a source of emotional support. One out of seven children in the region has a caregiver who does not have a source of emotional support to help with parenting, an estimate of 171,000 children, according to the assessment.
Common sources of emotional support are other family members, close friends, spouses or domestic partners, places of worship, religious leader, health care provider or a support group.
“When hardships extend into basic needs, like we’re going to lose our home, or we’re not going to have as much to eat, families often feel embarrassed or shy or reluctant to reach out for help,” Dr. Partap said. “Asking for help is brave, strong and loving because then we’re in a position to listen for the sake of our patients.”
Dr. Partap says that during economic hardship, it’s important that parents and caregivers prioritize providing emotional support to their children.
“When things are tough, all kids really want to feel is that they’re connected with their families, they’re loved, they’re safe, they’re valued,” Dr. Partap said. “That is something we can do no matter what our financial situation is. It’s hard, but we have to remember to pause, breathe and then bring that sense of security to our children, even when we are feeling more stressed.”
One of the most important things a parent can do is to find help from friends, family, professionals and faith or church support, Dr. Partap said.
“No matter what the hardship is, it comes back to how do we as parents, families and the community create a buffer or layer of protection around children, no matter what is happening,” Dr. Partap said.
About The Center for Children's Health
The Center for Children's Health, led by Cook Children's, is home to the Community-wide Children's Health Assessment & Planning Survey (CCHAPS), Community Health Outreach and Community Health Research. The center's goal is to create aligned collaborations that will allow us to make our North Texas region one of the healthiest places to raise a child.