Exposing an Invisible and Silent Monster Devouring Our Children (Part 3)

May 30, 2008 at 9:04 am Leave a comment

This is the third is a series of three posts on the historic community response to lead poisoning in Rochester New York. You can read the first two posts here and here.

After becoming Principal of an urban, high-needs elementary school in Rochester, I set out to “level the playing field” for my school’s children and community. After raising nearly seven million dollars, replacing almost the entire school teaching staff, and creating numerous school/community partnerships, I noticed that I still had a core of children with critically serious learning and behavioral deficits. Puzzled by this, I was the first principal known to review my school children’s public health records, and what I found horrified me. What follows is the last of a three-part story of the epic battle with what I call “the invisible and silent monster that devours our children”. — Ralph Spezio

“Child Advocacy and a Community’s Heroic Response”

In Rochester, NY, our community has not only “put a face” on this silent and invisible monster through education, we have mobilized ourselves to eventually slay the terrible beast that has created carnage and devoured so many of our children in the past. In our community-wide advocacy for children, we have evolved and surpassed many other communities throughout New York State and America in regard to how we view and solve the health issues of our children.

Far too often, many communities visualize problems in what can be called silo-thinking. That is, it is the common believe in many communities that children’s health is the sole responsibility of the Health Department, and children’s safety is the sole responsibility of the Police Department, etc. and in Rochester and Monroe County, we have clearly stepped forward to say that these issues are much too complex and inter-related for us to be myopic or naively simplistic in finding solutions. In any community, I believe that we are all accountable for the health and safety of our children.

The Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning has many treasured partners at the government as well as grass-roots levels. The Monroe County Health Department certainly has provided courageous and visionary leadership. Our contributing partners also come from individuals, community organizations, foundations, the business community, as well as grass-roots neighborhood associations. The University of Rochester Medical Center has been a long-standing advocate and partner.

Our City and County governments have also shown courageous leadership in creating new paths forward for the advocacy of child health. The City of Rochester passed the first City Housing Ordinance in the state for primary prevention of childhood lead poisoning, and the Rochester City School District just passed the first primary prevention School Board policy in New York State and one of the most comprehensive in the nation to protect children. State legislators from the Rochester region are on the threshold of passing a major state law for primary prevention of lead poisoning and we expect that this law will become a reality in the 2008 state legislative session.

Even though Rochester/Monroe County is on the national forefront in the work to provide healthy homes for children and families to help eliminate chronic diseases such as asthma and the ravages of lead poisoning, there is much more work to be completed locally. We must celebrate and secure the accomplishments and progress that we have made as a community to date, and we must monitor this progress and evaluate its ongoing effectiveness.

Relentless child advocacy, primary prevention, and the promotion of healthy environments and healthy lifestyles need to be a central focus of everyone in our society. It is my belief that any civilized society is measured primarily by how well it takes care of its children. If the adults within that society do not mobilize to protect children, who will? Children do not have an organized voice. They can not lobby on their own behalf. They have very little control in regard to their environment. They rely almost entirely upon adults.

In Rochester/ Monroe County, I believe that we have a lot to be proud of in regard to our collective work in primary prevention of child health and safety. We still have a long way yet to go, but by “linking arms” and partnering, by sharing responsibility and accountability, and by joining together to search and find critical solutions, we will find our real success as a community. This success will be measured, not only in the excellent health of our children, but also in their undiminished potential for a happy and productive future.

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Entry filed under: Community News, Environmental Health.

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