There are few, if any, recent studies specific to the health and wellness of Black youth in foster care. However, there is data on the wellbeing of youth in placement overall, as well as the demographics of the young people in care.
For example, the National Foster Youth Institute cites that “on average, 4 out of every 5 children and adolescents enter foster care with serious mental health issues.” Half of the youth emancipated from foster care have a chronic health condition and only one third have insurance at emancipation. A 2013 report by the Advisory Committee on Minority Health further found that “50 percent of children of color in foster care for a period of 18 months or more were considered to be in poor health.”
It is also known that, despite only making up 13.71% of the population, Black youth account for 22.75% of children/adolescents in foster care.
All of those numbers combined add up to a large population of young people whose health - mental, physical and emotional - is at stake.
Healthcare remains a privilege in the United States. Those with limited means and in rural areas in particular face numerous challenges accessing meaningful, effective healthcare. The same is true regardless of financial status and geography for people of color. The disparities in both treatment and outcome between white Americans and Americans of color - particularly Black Americans - have long been documented. COVID-19 made them even more apparent.
Take, for example, maternal health outcomes. Prior to the pandemic, the statistics were already beyond troubling. Compared to other high-income countries, the United States had and continues to have the highest maternal mortality rate, with Black women in the U.S. having a maternal mortality rate 3 times higher than that of white women.
Add in COVID-19.
Black women, regardless of maternal status, saw a 2.3 year decline in life expectancy in just the first 6 months of the pandemic. Though exact data is not available yet, experts know that the pandemic has further exacerbated the racial disparities in maternal mortality rates. “The pandemic came and just made these issues and a lot more, much, much worse,” Angel Aina, interim executive director for the Black Mamas Matter Alliance told Roll Call in 2020.
As we take this month to recognize the gains in Black Health and Wellness and the impact that Black individuals have had on health and healthcare in general, we must also remember how far this country has to go in providing fair, effective and equitable healthcare to all of its citizens, not just those who happen to be white.
In honor of this Black History Month’s theme - Black Health and Wellness - we would like to highlight two African American women who have had a huge impact on the health and wellness of the United States throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett is a viral immunologist and was the scientific lead of the Vaccine Research Center’s coronavirus team at the U.S. National Institutes of Health until June 2021. Corbett was instrumental in the development of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 and has worked to lessen vaccine hesitancy through education and transparency. In an interview with Nature, she said “For a long time, we left the general public on the outside of vaccine development until it was time to give them their shot. And that’s just unacceptable. I can’t even blame anyone for being skeptical about this, because they don’t have any idea what went into it. Read more about Corbett here.
Dr. Sandra Lindsay is a nurse and the director of patient care services for critical health at Northwell Health, a healthcare provider in New York that was hit hard by COVID-19. Lindsay led (and leads) teams of nurses as they cared for COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic. However, she is best known for being the first American to receive the COVID vaccine. She did so on December 14, 2020 and has been a vocal advocate for vaccines in the year-plus that has followed. Read more about her here.
February is Black History Month and this year’s theme is Black Health and Wellness. The theme aims to highlight the contributions of Black scholars and practitioners in the medical field while also recognizing how consistently the Black community has been underserved medically in the United States.
In reflecting on the meaning of Black Health and Wellness this month, we ask you not to forget that mental health is health. It too should be a part of the conversation, as it is at Mental Health America.
Take this month to learn, share and grow. Black History Month may happen just once per year, but the knowledge you take from it should not be confined to February.