I remember quite vividly sitting in a community clinic going through my mental catalogue of social questions – “Where do you live? How many people live in the home? Where does ‘patient x’ sleep? Who looks after your kids during the day? Since you’re not working, where do you get money for food? Who helps you?” – when a mom asked “Miss, why you all in my business though?!” For me, it wasn’t as much about getting into mom’s business as it was about getting into my patient’s business. Pediatricians, like other child advocates, recognize that family, educational, social, cultural, spiritual, economic, environmental, and political forces affect the health and functioning of children. Improving the health and well-being of children through advocacy is a defining element of the specialty of pediatrics. Doing my job well requires me to get into my patients’ business.
Children are the most vulnerable and voiceless members of society. They are completely dependent on those around them for the basic necessities required for growth, development, and survival. They are unable to make decisions when it comes to their living arrangements, nutrition, healthcare, or education. As such, they are subject to the whims and decisions of those around them and there are many instances where those charged with their care make decisions that are not entirely conducive to that child’s well-being. Even when caretakers have the best of intentions toward their children, they can find themselves in situations outside of their control – joblessness, mental illness, or abusive relationships. Their lack of ill intent doesn’t make circumstances any less difficult for children in their care.
Being on the front lines of childcare has made me privy to many atrocities visited upon our children by people entrusted with their care and nurturing. Physical abuse. Sexual abuse. Mental abuse. Lack of food security. Lack of proper sanitation. Trafficking. Truancy. Intimate partner violence. Gun violence. Neglect. Throughout the pandemic, there was one tragic case after the next about some heinous act committed toward or in front of children. The newspaper headlines barely scratch the surface. While most have the luxury of frowning in disbelief or horror, making a trite social media post, and then going on with their lives, child advocates are charged with helping these children put together the pieces of their lives, securing resources, and lobbying for policy changes to ensure their well-being.
Worldwide, organizations like the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize that children’s rights are human rights. Children’s rights include the right to health, education, family life, play and recreation, an adequate standard of living and to be protected from abuse and harm. Children’s rights cover their developmental and age-appropriate needs that change over time as a child grows up. Safeguarding these rights is vital to building strong communities.
As a pediatrician, I am a child advocate – a gatekeeper of the community. I have a responsibility to my patients to get in your business. A country’s future is only as healthy as its children. We all have a responsibility to ensure that we are raising a nation of happy and healthy kids. More importantly, we all have an opportunity to do so in our roles as parents, educators, clergy, policymakers, and everyday citizens. Remember that a pediatrician is a valuable resource for helping families access goods and services needed for ensuring that your child has everything they need to thrive. Don’t hesitate to reach out. You’d be surprised at all the ways we are able to assist.
• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in Nassau, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.