As the war in Ukraine continues, major news outlets have begun highlighting the individuals and families impacted, both those remaining in Ukraine and those who have fled. Every story is heartbreaking and harrowing, like the story last week in which CNN interviewed foster parents. The article served not only as a reminder of the weight many adults and guardians carry through this war but also an indication of how the trauma of war may be compounded by the trauma youth in foster care have already endured.
Throughout COVID-19, many have pointed out the stark impact the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had on youth in foster care. Their mental health, physical health, education, financial security and overall well being have suffered. They continue to suffer. For the young people in foster care, as well as those no longer in care, in Ukraine, they now also face an unimaginable hardship.
There is no way for us to erase the pain these young people have faced and continue to face right now. But we can remember they are there, and through the war as well as the recovery afterward, we can find ways to support.
If you are looking for ways to aid the people of Ukraine now, we encourage you to find a trusted and respected organization, such as the World Central Kitchen, for your donation.
It’s hard to believe that 2 years have passed since COVID-19 first upended life as we knew it in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. What began as a global yet still distant concern, quickly became a new reality and a present fear for us in March of 2020. In the years that have passed since, we have learned more about COVID-19, taken steps to combat the illness and found an unending ability to adapt for public health and personal safety. We have found strength in each other while not being “with” each other, and we have been reminded again and again how lucky so many of us are.
At the R.J. Leonard Foundation, the past two years have been a constant lesson in gratitude as you - our community - have stepped forward repeatedly to support our Fellows through ups and downs we could not have predicted 24 months ago. You have helped our Fellows’ children have the supplies they need for virtual and in-person school years; you have contributed to tuition payments and rental emergencies; and you have never once questioned the need.
Thank you for weathering this storm with us. We would not be making it through without you.
March celebrates two groups of individuals: Women and Social Workers. It’s a fitting combination, as an estimated 83% of social workers are women. And while we could take this opportunity to highlight the women in social work who have made documented history - like Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells - we ask you instead to reflect on the many women in social work who make history and help to change history for the individuals they serve every day.
Whether helping individuals through crises as counselors and case managers, working to locate resources, offering guidance and advice on parenting, relationships and more, advocating for equity and justice, or simply by being there as an ear, a shoulder and a voice, social workers have an unquantifiable impact on the lives they touch. For so many, social workers make history simply by caring. Our world as a whole and as individuals is a better place because of social workers.
At the R.J. Leonard Foundation, we are honored to work with a number of inspiring social workers, who also happen to be women, including:
Happy Social Work Month and Happy Women’s History Month!
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.
Today is National Thank Your Mentor Day, and we at RJLF could not be more thankful for our Mentors! They are the backbone of our Foundation, offering support, advice, friendship and more to our Fellows!
For many of our Fellows, their Mentor has become their person - the one they call first when something goes wrong but also when something goes right. Our Mentors are there for lost and new jobs, for struggles and successes in school, for family celebrations, and even for slogging through monthly budgets. Most importantly however, they are there. Their presence alone is more impactful than they can ever know. We at RJLF and RJLF’s Fellows are eternally grateful.
Thank you Jo, Kathleen, Melanie, Lisa, Rachel, Coleen, Megan, Dawn, Rosaleen, Tom, Barb, Shushma, Cindy, John, Victoria and Zaida. We would not be who we are today without you.
January is the first month since July that families throughout the country will not receive a monthly Child Tax Credit (CTC). They had been, for the last six months, receiving either $250 or $300 per child, depending on age. While 6 months might not seem like a long time, it is long enough for that income to become a fixture in the budget. Families, particularly those already struggling, used the CTC for groceries, utilities and childcare, and to make up for lost income when childcare and schools closed for COVID outbreaks. It is estimated that the Child Tax Credit reduced monthly child poverty rates by 30% and reduced food hardship for families with children by 25%.
Without the Child Tax Credit this month those gains are gone.
Of course, there are arguments for and against continuing the Child Tax Credit (currently a part of the Build Back Better plan). There are arguments for and against modifying the Child Tax Credit - adjusting the income limits or adding a work requirement, for example. But outside of those arguments, what is clear right now is that this month there are families and children going without who were not last month.
January is National Mentoring Month - an opportunity for us all to reflect on the impact mentoring has had on our lives. At the R.J. Leonard Foundation, we are fortunate to see first hand how powerful mentoring can be - on both the mentee and the mentor. It is life changing. As they build and maintain their relationships, mentors and mentees are able to grow and learn, while also having fun!
This month, we encourage you to take the time to reflect on how mentoring has affected your life. Whether a formal or informal relationship, how have you been supported and how have you supported others? We think you’ll be surprised by what an impact both roles have had on you.
And if you’d like to take the next step into a formal mentoring relationship, contact us.
Happy Mentoring Month!