Origins of the Rohingya Refugee Crisis

By: Leah Johnson

Edited by: Dylan Lamberti

Since violence erupted in the Rakhine State of Myanmar on Aug. 25, 2017, Rohingya people have been fleeing across the border at an alarming rate. The New York Times reported on Sept. 26, 2017, that the number of new arrivals in the neighboring country of Bangladesh had risen to 480,000 in just one month. Sixty percent of these are children attempting to escape the violence and an estimated 6,000 children entered the country without parents. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the top human rights official of the UN, stated that the situation in Myanmar is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya; however, this has been disputed by the UN representative for the Myanmar government. As the violence escalates and more casualties are incurred, international institutions are scrambling to respond both diplomatically and economically.

As sudden as this may seem, this situation was not created overnight; tensions have been brewing in Myanmar for decades. The Rohingya trace their origins in the region to the 15th century, when they began migrating to the former Arakan Kingdom in great numbers. Many more arrived while Rakhine was under the rule of British India in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Rohingya are Muslim who practice a Sufi-inflected variation of Sunni Islam, while the majority population in Myanmar is Buddhist. In 1948, Myanmar declared independence. Since then, all successive governments in Myanmar have represented the Buddhist majority and have not recognized the Rohingya as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, rendering them stateless.

Statelessness is an incredibly pressing issue for the Rohingya. Because they do not have citizenship anywhere the Rohingya do not have a government to protect their rights. When they flee Myanmar and become refugees, resettling them in new places is incredibly difficult. Pakistan currently hosts the third largest population of Rohingya in the world with estimates totalling more than 500,000 Rohingya people, who arrived during a previous exodus in the 1970s and 1980s. In Pakistan, the Rohingya live in abysmally poor settings and are deprived of basic rights. The New York Times reported that up to 30 families share a single tap of water, which often flows for less than four hours a day. There are no hospitals in the slums where they live and death rates are high among women giving birth who are not admitted to government hospitals. Moreover, police routinely harass the Rohingya. Many Rohingya have or have previously had Pakistani national ID cards for years, but are now facing discrimination or outright denial when they try to renew their cards. Without these cards, they cannot apply for jobs, their children cannot attend school, they cannot access government hospitals, and they are occasionally arrested and held on unaffordable bail for not presenting identification. These issues are compounded in refugee camp settings where there is limited access to supplies and economic resources.

A direct path to citizenship, either in their home state of Myanmar or in their current host countries, is one of the most sustainable ways to address the refugee crisis the Rohingya face. Those who have been permitted to reside in Myanmar are considered “resident foreigners,” not citizens, putting them at risk of abuses because of their religion. While those Rohingya who have managed to obtain citizenship in Myanmar still face persecution and stigma, they have also been afforded legal protection. However, because Myanmar’s army is constitutionally obligated to occupy at least 25 percent of seats in parliament, the effectiveness of this legal protection is unclear. It will take a long time for the Rohingya to overcome their marginalization, but it is nearly impossible without the provision of basic rights afforded to citizens.

International organizations, UN member states, NGOs, and the government of Myanmar should begin taking steps to ensure that the Rohingya do not remain stateless. First, financial aid should be provided to both Bangladesh and Pakistan to ensure that the Rohingya residing there are receiving basic necessities. Additionally, UN officials who have been present in Myanmar since the country gained its independence should facilitate peacekeeping talks and assist with providing aid to those who have been internally displaced. Actions taken by the international community should be weighed carefully, lest they inadvertently cause another military coup in Myanmar. Most importantly, any country currently hosting Rohingya should begin negotiating a potential path to citizenship for the Rohingya.


Leah Johnson is a second year Masters of Public Administration student focusing on international management. She is currently working as a research assistant intern with the American Institutes for Research and hopes to continue to work in international development and create empowering programs. Her policy interests include refugee and migrant rights, education, and fighting human trafficking.

Dylan Lamberti is a first year Political Communication student and Hart A. Massey Fellow at American University. Originally from Canada, Dylan completed his undergraduate degree at McGill University, where he ran the McGill International Review, which sparked his interest in international politics and American foreign policy.

Image Source: The Independant

Denying Students the Services They Need to Succeed

In a recent Houston Chronicle Expose, it unmasked how unelected state officials have devised a system that has kept thousands of disabled students out of special education. As an educator in rural Mississippi, I was horrified by this piece and its findings. I’ve had the opportunity to teach students with disabilities and have seen first-hand the value and necessity in these various services.

Texas is the spotlight regarding this growing concern over cuts to special education services and the long-term impacts of the children that get left behind. In 2004, the Texas Education Agency created a regulation that restricts the amount of students who receive special education services to 8.5 percent. Furthermore, this regulation punishes schools that fail to abide to this benchmark. These new expectations are part of the Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis, which has led thousands of disabled students to be excluded from special education services.  School districts across the state have started to classify students as “504’s”, which allows students extra time on examinations but declines them access to special education services. Districts have also convinced parents to pull their children out of public school. This system has been so “effective”, yet roughly 250,000 students that have a right to services such as therapy, counseling, and one-on-one tutoring are being turned away. Technically, it’s illegal for states to cap special education. Texas’ way around the Individual Disability Education Act, a law that gave every child, including those with disabilities a right to access public education, was to count the number of special education students as an indicator of school quality. The effects of this percentage are reflected in the chart below:

This chart displays Texas’s “unofficial” special education cap. Looking at 2004 to now, Texas has 46 percent less kids with learning disabilities the percentage of students with emotional and mental illnesses, orthopedic impairments, speech impairments and brain injuries has also dropped significantly. This drop is most apparent in big cities – Houston and Dallas offer only 7.4 percent and 6.9 percent of student’s special education services. The origin of this “indicator” is rooted in Texas official’s decision to cut Texas Education Agency’s budget by $1.1 billion dollars. This drop is due to Texas’ system using low special education percentages as an “indicator” of school quality, not due to a decline of students who need special education assistance.

On average, educating a special education student is twice as costly as an average student.  The federal government pays only 20 percent of the cost of special education leaving a state like Texas to  spend nearly $3 billion in 2002; the main factor in creating the 8.5 percent cap on special education services.  According to former Commissioner Shirley Neeley Richardson, this 8.5 percentage was a “first stab” at addressing the high percentage of special education students. This “first stab” has been remarkably effective, as 96 percent of all districts have reduced their special education rates since 2004. Districts that did not abide to this percentage had their funding cut and were forced to provide a corrective action plan that would reduce special education percentages. Districts have also cut percentages by forcing families to bear the burden for disability evaluations, claiming there is a waiting list and falsely telling parents testing only happens once every two years.

However, one should not make the mistake of believing Texas and other conservative states are the only ones neglecting special education. Lawsuits have sprung up throughout the country, including in progressive states such as California and Massachusetts. A lawsuit in California heard by the federal courts dealt with parents throughout the state who argued that California wasn’t providing adequate education to disabled students. Parents in California fought in some cases for a decade to get their child the help they needed. A lawsuit also occurred in Massachusetts where the Massachusetts Advocates for Children argued that children are being left without services for months at an early age, stunting their developmental progress. As shown through Texas, California and Massachusetts, there are not enough protections in place for students with disabilities.

To ensure that students are provided adequate resources and equal access to a quality education, the federal government should cap itemized deductions for households. Per a CNN article, if the federal government caps itemized deductions to $50,000, roughly $749 billion would be raised in the next decade. If lawmakers want to make sure charitable contributions are not taxed, roughly $490 billion would be raised. The government should cap these deductions and stipulate that school districts must spend 50 percent of all additional funds received from this revenue towards special education students. This would give school districts the funding they need to provide students with an equal and equitable education.

Every day that the federal government stands absent, more students with disabilities are being neglected and falling further behind. Stella Young, a disability rights activist once wrote, “My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” We must act so that all students persevere in an environment that will allow them to succeed.

Image source: Marilyn Nieves, Getty Images

Questioning the Efficacy of Corporal Punishment in Modern Day School Systems

My first week teaching high school in rural Mississippi, I witnessed my principal walk down the cafeteria hallway with a three-foot paddle, hitting the palm of his hand as he screamed, “Who am I going to get? Who am I going to get?” The students just stared at him. Some in fear, others in amusement; they all knew what was coming. Someone was about to experience corporal punishment.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort.” The UN committee promotes the prohibition of corporal punishment worldwide. Currently, corporal punishment is banned in 42 countries. However, 19 states in the United States still employ corporal punishment in schools. The question that must be asked is, who is facing corporal punishment and is it effective? An analysis of federal data from 2009 to 2010 showed that 838 children were exposed to some form of corporal punishment on average each day in public schools, leading to over 150,000 instances a year. A civil rights report conducted by the U.S Department of Education found that in 2011-2012, that number had increased to 167,000 students who had received physical punishment, such as paddling, during the school year. Due to the rising trend in incidences, corporal punishment in schools must be addressed.


The states that use corporal punishment are in the southeastern region of the United States. In the same civil rights report, Mississippi and Texas made up 35 percent of reported cases of corporal punishment. Adding Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia to the mix accounted for over 70 percent of all children disciplined with physical force in the U.S. According to the U.S Department of Education, black students make up 16 percent of students enrolled in public schools, but are 35 percent of those physically disciplined. Black children are three times more likely to receive corporal punishment than their white peers. This is reflected in a chart below:


This disparity in corporal punishment however can be broken down by state. The Brookings Institution stated that black students are “twice as likely to be struck as white students in North Carolina and Georgia, 70 percent more likely in Mississippi, 40 percent more likely in Louisiana and Arkansas.” Clearly there is an issue of racial disparity in regards to corporal punishment. It is unclear whether its use is due to it’s effectiveness or a result of discriminatory behavior.

Proponents of corporal punishment argue that it is an effective disciplinary tool. As a teacher, I was told that the use of corporal punishment was a “cultural component” of Mississippi. However, research shows that corporal punishment is not only administered by racial lines, but it also has long-term health consequences. Pediatrician, Donald Greydanus, testified before a congressional hearing in 2010, on the effect corporal punishment has on academic success. Greynadus argued that physical discipline makes the school environment, “unproductive, nullifying and punitive,” and teaches that, “violence is acceptable, especially against the weak…” Furthermore, the International Journal of Business and Science found that the overuse of corporal punishment can have negative effects on children, such as stimulation of aggression, development of strong anxieties, imitation of methods of punishment, feeling of helplessness, aggression, social withdrawal, feelings of inferiority, substance abuse and many more. The report also found that adolescents that have experienced corporal punishment show higher levels of depression and feelings of hopelessness.

Our education system is designed to build students into productive members of society; clearly corporal punishment has unintended consequences and is a short sighted disciplinary tool. Supporters of this method, however, will argue that the policy is already set and has proven to be legal in the judicial system. In Ingraham vs. Wright, the Supreme Court decided that it is the state’s right to determine the legality of corporal punishment. However, despite this there are steps that can be taken to diminish and decrease the use of corporal punishment in schools.

In many school districts, administration can deliver corporal punishment without impunity. As a teacher, I have witnessed how harmful this lack of accountability is as it leaves the punishment of a student at the faculty member’s discretion and/or bias. Rather than allowing administrators to automatically have the right to use corporal punishment on students, the federal government should create a policy that requires parents to opt-in to corporal punishment at the beginning of each school year. This would severely decrease the ability of school districts to use corporal punishment because it would require parents to come in to the school and sign a paper that allows their children to be physically punished. Such a policy would make corporal punishment inconvenient and it would also force parents to question the efficacy and morality of allowing their child to be physically punished by school leaders.

Thus far, the most recent piece of legislation introduced was H.R. 2268, Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act of 2015, but has not yet been taken up for a vote on the House floor. It’s time for the policy of corporal punishment to be confronted so that all students can attend a school environment that is just, safe and focused on building them into the leaders and learners of tomorrow.


Image source: Edx, Saving Schools

Universal Pre-K: A Parent’s Perspective

Becoming a parent changes an individual fundamentally. I was interested in childcare policy before becoming a parent, but now when I think about childcare policy, I think about what is going to be best for my smiling one year-old twin girls. One of the major issues in childcare policy is the cost of childcare and an often-proposed remedy is government-provided Universal Pre-K. Under a Universal Pre-K program, all children can attend preschool and eliminate a year or two of childcare costs that parents are currently paying. Yet, political and financial constraints of states make taking on the cost burden largely unrealistic.

The cost of childcare is a major concern for all but the wealthiest of parents. In 2006, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) indicated an average cost between $3,000 and $13,000 per year for childcare (Palley and Shdaimah, 2011). Personal experience over the last year (along with market evidence) suggests that the price has risen. American University’s Child Development Center costs $1,365 a month for their services, which is a discount compared to what other community members pay. This amounts to over $16,000 a year per child. Sending two children to the Child Development Center would cost roughly $32,000 a year. If an individual’s net pay is about two thirds of their gross pay, then they would need a job paying more than $53,000 in order to afford childcare. This does not include rent or mortgage, car payments, or medical expenses.

A common objection to any sort of state-sponsored childcare, including Universal Pre-K, is that keeping the children at home with the family is better. The expectation is that a mother or father has a network of people within their family or friends that can assist with raising and caring for their child. The truth is many parents don’t have that kind of support. Having family or friends watch a child for little or no cost is a wonderful thing, but plenty still need more extensive childcare and must pay for it.

Universal Pre-K, providing high-quality preschool to every child, is one of the policy solutions floating around to help solve some of these problems for parents while helping students prepare for elementary schools. As the race to the White House in 2016 ramps up, the Democratic contenders are likely to bring up this issue. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton support Universal Pre-K. Clinton has supported this issue previously in Arkansas, as First Lady, and as a Senator in New York. In June 2015, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Clinton introduced her plan for Universal Pre-K, ambitiously planning to make preschool available to all four year olds over a 10 year period. She plans to build on President Obama’s Preschool for All proposal for full day preschool that was introduced in 2013 but didn’t advance through Congress. She particularly pointed to a lack of funds in Early Head Start and Early Head Start Child Care Partnership grant program, and indicated that she would double the investment. These proposals seem geared to relieve the burden of paying for childcare for low-income families. Clinton also said she would offer parents a tax cut for the middle class to help pay for quality childcare.

Senator Sanders also supports this issue; interestingly, he has it listed at least twice on his website, both as a women’s rights issue and as an income inequality issue. Since Sanders frames the issue as an income inequality issue and Clinton’s initial proposals are geared towards low-income children, it seems likely that the Democratic candidates will focus on low-income students through programs like Early Head Start and will consider Universal Pre-K a secondary policy goal.

Relieving parents of the burden of paying for child care while increasing educational opportunities for kids is hard to oppose. The key question given how tight budgets are and how impossible it is to raise taxes is how would these programs and policies be funded? A 2014 piece in The Atlantic poses this very question, and suggests rather than trying to fund preschool for all children, the focus should be on low-income students who are likely to benefit the most from preschool. The article points out that while the long-term benefits are unclear, there are short-term benefits that suggest that it helps to close the achievement gap.

As a parent, I truly believe every child, no matter a parent’s income, should have access to high quality pre-school and/or other child care options that are convenient for parents. With that, other issues that arise in childcare that restrict access such as waiting lists, expensive application fees or expensive monthly fees also need be addressed especially in the policy decision-making process. As a policy analyst, I understand that there are limited funds. Thus, it is logical to focus on children who may benefit the most from preschool such as low-income children.

Many families across the U.S. cannot afford to spend $32,000 a year on day care. Parents who may have incomes that Sanders and Clinton would consider higher than middle class are probably stretching every dollar or going into debt to make sure their children have the best childcare services they can find. For some, that means working two jobs and spending less time with their kids. For others, it means choosing not to work and losing ground in one’s career, as well as adding financial pressure on the working parent. It also means compromising on the quality of care for your child and leaving them in a place or with individuals that compromise their chance to succeed academically, or generally in life. This is the most painful truth for any parent.

If policymakers pursue options such as ratings for childcare centers and providing incentives for additional childcare workers, which will lower costs and increase access, a broader spectrum of parents and families will benefit.

Image source: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post

The Flint Water Crisis: Who’s to Blame?

The response, or lack thereof, to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has dominated headlines in recent weeks. Until April 2014, the city of Flint used water from Lake Huron. As Flint faced a financial crisis, city officials opted to use the Flint River as the city’s water source, switching from using Detroit’s water pumped from Lake Huron to save $4 million per year. However, water from the Flint River contained higher levels of chloride, causing it to corrode plumbing materials and leach lead into the city’s tap water after officials failed to treat the city’s water with orthophosphate, a substance used to mitigate corrosive materials in water.

Soon after the switch, residents contracted rashes and complained about the water’s taste, color and odor. General Motors stopped using the city’s water because the company claimed that it corroded car parts. The city of Detroit offered to reconnect Flint to its water system, waiving a connection fee, but the city government refused the offer.

Despite high levels of lead found in multiple residents’ homes and in the blood of many children, Michigan officials and EPA administrators insisted that the water was safe. After government epidemiologists validated the high lead levels in children’s blood in October 2015, city officials told residents to stop drinking the city’s tap water. For nearly 18 months Flint’s residents drank and bathed in poisoned water while officials ignored the signs that something was seriously wrong.

Agency Failures

EPA experts found that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality tested the water in a fashion that drastically understated lead levels. This protocol allowed Flint River water to pass quality tests for far too long. The department continuously disputed reports that the water corroded plumbing equipment and failed to enact corrosion controls in a timely fashion. MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel repeatedly downplayed concerns and said that Flint citizens should relax and not worry about the water’s quality.

Additionally, the EPA failed to take a memo written by EPA employee Miguel Del Toral seriously. Del Toral’s memo expressed concern about the safety of Flint’s water. Instead, agency officials said that the report needed to be assessed and verified by other sources, which did not prompt Flint to take the initiative to improve its water treatment.

Health and Social Implications

Due to this inaction, Flint’s citizens face an array of health hazards. Since last fall nearly 200 children have exhibited elevated levels of lead in their blood. Lead exposure in children can cause neurological damage such as IQ reductions and attention-deficit problems. The EPA classifies lead as a “probable human carcinogen”. Aside from lead, other harmful materials were found in Flint’s water. Legionella, the source of Legionnaire’s disease and total trihalomethanes, potential carcinogens, were discovered in water samples.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver expressed her concern about the social implications of the water crisis. The resulting IQ loss from lead exposure may increase incidence of learning disabilities among the city’s youth. The mayor is also worried about the potential increase in mental health issues and the strain that may put on the juvenile justice system. Lastly, as adults begin feeling the effects of lead poisoning and other toxins, there may be larger demand for adoptive and foster parents.

Aftermath Responses

Congress held a hearing in which EPA administrators, state, and local government officials were blasted for their lackluster response. The FBI also announced the beginning of an investigation to determine if criminal violations of federal environmental law occurred.

During the latest Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders weighed in on the crisis. Clinton said that Governor Snyder acted like he did not care that Flint’s poor, largely African American citizenry drank contaminated water while Sanders called for the governor’s resignation.

Meanwhile, the controversy was mentioned only once during the GOP debate, when Governor Kasich was asked how he would handle a similar situation. In a CNN interview, Jeb Bush praised Governor Snyder for his leadership.

Emergency Manager Law to Blame?

In the wake of this crisis, Governor Snyder’s implementation of Michigan’s emergency manager law has come under much scrutiny. The law allows the governor to appoint emergency managers to seize control of communities in fiscal trouble. Michigan voters rejected the measure in 2012, but the state’s Republican controlled legislature reinstated the law less than six weeks later. Flint was under the control of Emergency Manager Darnell Earley during the water crisis.

Critics see an array of glaring issues that stem from emergency management. Some believe that emergency managers are more apt to make rash decisions that compromise public health and overall citizen wellbeing for the sake of cutting costs, as displayed by Flint’s water supply change. Many also point to the fact that cities, such as Flint, under the control of appointed managers are often majority-black. Those opposed to the measure view this as the disenfranchisement of African American communities and a gross usurpation of power from elected local officials that eliminate essential checks and balances. Lastly, due to their appointment by the governor rather than election, emergency managers are only held accountable to the governor’s office rather than the citizens in their respective municipalities. Widespread belief exists that if Flint remained under the control of local officials rather than an emergency manager, such reckless decisions could have been avoided due to greater levels of accountability and closeness to the situation.

Flint’s residents deserve a thorough investigation from the FBI and Congress must continue to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. Additionally, emergency management laws not only in Michigan, but also across the nation, must be further examined to determine whether such laws lead to increased instances of public health hazards, disenfranchisement, and lower quality governance. No community in the United States should have to suffer the way Flint has.

Image credit: Sam Owens/AP


When Self-Regulation is not Enough: A Look at Food Marketing to Children

Childhood obesity is a problem that has received a growing amount of national attention, largely due to Michelle Obama’s health initiatives as First Lady. One area related to child well-being that has yet to see a lot of policy development is food marketing to children. Currently, food marketing is self-regulated by the advertising industry through programs like the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). Recent analysis suggests that this type of regulation does not adequately protect children or hold companies accountable for their marketing practices.

Food Marketing’s Link to Childhood Obesity

Legislation introduced in Baltimore in early January would require businesses that sell or advertise sugary drinks to warn kids (and parents) about the risk of obesity associated with those products. These warnings are already in place in San Francisco. Policies like banning the sale of jumbo-sized drinks in New York and taxes on sugary drinks have been overturned or failed in other ways. Other countries are considering policies on this issue as well. In the UK, a tax on sugary drinks has been proposed by several health organizations, including the British Medical Association. This recommendation is significant because Prime Minister David Cameron is currently working on a strategy to combat childhood obesity in UK.

Food marketing to children has been contributing to childhood obesity. The chairwoman of the Health Committee in the UK (who also supports the tax on sugary drinks) said that additional action on the issue of advertising campaigns is needed to curb childhood obesity. Recent analysis completed by the University of Liverpool in the UK analyzed 22 studies on food marketing and found that the practice increases food consumption in children, but not for adults. A study completed in the Netherlands also showed that children playing a candy advergame online ate more candy than those playing a toy advergame.

How industry self-regulation works

Currently, much of food marketing to children is self-regulated by the advertising industry. The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) is an organization formed by several food and beverage companies alongside the Better Business Bureau in 2006. Companies that are members of CFBAI (including McDonald’s, General Mills, and Coca-Cola) pledge to use CFBAI’s uniform nutrition criteria to determine those foods that can and cannot be advertised to children under 12. The nutrition criteria require a specific amount of saturated fat, trans- fat, sodium, and total sugars allowed in food advertised to children. The criteria also include a nutrition component, advocating the inclusion of fruit, vegetables, non-or low fat dairy, whole grains, and other essential nutrients in a healthy diet. This applies to all advertising platforms including television and internet sites. Companies also pledge not to advertise to children younger than 6. To ensure that these commitments are kept, CFBAI staff monitor ads and report their findings to the public. Each company also submits an annual compliance report to CFBAI.

Is self-regulation sufficient? 

Food marketing toward children was recently analyzed by the UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and published in their Snack F.a.c.t.s. report. Some compliance issues with CFBAI standards were noted in the report. Of the 10 brands advertised mostly to children on TV, four were manufactured by CFBAI companies but CFBAI had not approved these brands for children’s advertising. Additionally, the Snack f.a.c.t.s report discovered advertising that was directed towards children under 6, and recommended that companies follow their CFBAI pledge and not advertise to this age group.

CFBAI guidelines have several shortcomings. One limitation is that the guidelines only apply to children under the age of 12. The Snack F.a.c.t.s report recommends that the guidelines should apply to children up to the age of 14. They also recommend that the CFBAI should close loopholes in their definitions of media directed at children, and use additional measures to identify ads and ensure that products meet nutritional standards. Another suggestion is for the CFBAI adopt the Smart Snacks nutrition standards (what schools use) so products that cannot be sold to children in schools will not be advertised to children. Nearly 75% of the brands advertised to children did not meet the Smart Snacks nutrition standards.

There are also racial disparities in food marketing. The Snack F.a.c.t.s found both Hispanic and black children were targeted in ads more frequently than white children. 90% of the advertising on Spanish language TV was for sweet and savory snack brands. Between 2010 and 2014, advertising for sweet snacks and savory snacks increased by 30% and 551%, respectively, while advertising for yogurt (a healthier product) fell by 93%. Black children saw 64% more snack food ads than white children. Black teens saw more than twice as many ads as white teens. Among black teens, there were 129% more ads for savory snacks compared to white teens, an increase of 71% more ads since 2010.

More protection needed for children

The main purpose of advertising is to sell products. While self-regulation certainly provides positive press for those companies promoting Corporate Social Responsibility, it does not adequately protect children from potentially harmful advertisements. In effort to curb the obesity crisis, taking action against food advertising to children will eventually become a necessary step.

Image source: US Right to Know

Living Room Education: Home Visits as a Prevention Tool

At a December briefing hosted by the National Prevention Science Coalition, Dr. David Olds, Professor of Pediatrics, Nursing, and Public Health at the University of Colorado shared some good news about a family-based poverty prevention approach: Low-income, first-time mothers who were visited at home regularly by a nurse had better prenatal health outcomes, relied less on government assistance like TANF and food stamps, and had better diets and decreased tobacco use compared to a control group.

The Nurse-Family Partnership, an evidence-based community health program, was designed to improve pregnancy outcomes for low-income, first-time single mothers, as well as children’s health and development and parental health and economic self-sufficiency. The program was tested in Elmira, NY, Memphis, TN, and Denver, CO over nearly 40 years, and participants in each city, though demographically unique, experienced similarly positive results.

The idea behind the partnership was simple: nurses would conduct home visits to at-risk mothers in prenatal and infancy, providing recommendations and assistance about care for their newborns. Nurses would be partnered with interested mothers about halfway through their first pregnancy, and would remain a regular visitor for up to 2 years following the baby’s birth.

Among children from all three pilot cities, nurse-visited homes saw decreases in children’s injuries, increases in children’s language and school readiness, and decreases in cases of child abuse and neglect from ages 0-15. Due to the piloted program’s impacts on mothers and children, the Nurse-Family Partnership has been replicated throughout the US and now serves over 31,000 families in 43 states.

Home Visits Aren’t Just for Nurses

Home visiting as prevention and intervention has been tested not only in medical field but also in the realm of education. Many states, districts, and individual schools have experimented with visits by teachers to students’ homes, citing a range of potential benefits. When it comes to education-based home visits, what types of outcomes are occurring amongst students, parents, and teachers? What are the barriers to implementing a routine home visit program?

Home Visits: Good for Parents and Teachers

School leaders have cited numerous goals in implementing home visiting programs in their communities, the most fundamental being to forge school and family links. Melissa Brown, assistant superintendent for the Sacramento, CA City Unified School District, began a voluntary teacher program 9 years ago with relationship building in mind: “Starting the year off with teacher visits to students’ homes, with such visits serving as invitations to parents to become partners in the children’s education, is in fact, one of the easiest ways to establish relationships.” So far, Brown has been pleased by the district’s home visits results.

For the parents, the visits provide an opportunity to break down barriers, to understand how to relate and feel connected to the school and their children’s experience. Teachers not only can develop personal connections with parents, but also gain useful insight about how to approach each students’ learning progress in school. Brown cited one such instance: During a home visit of a student who repeatedly failed to complete assignments, the teacher learned that the only place the child had to do homework was on top of the toilet seat. Additionally, the child had no materials at home. After this home visit, the teacher began providing more tools in the classroom for the student.

Students Benefit, Too

In a 2015 study  by Johns Hopkins, researchers found that students whose teachers visited them at home were less likely to be absent and more likely to read at grade level. The study examined 4,700 students from 12 Washington DC elementary schools who partook in a family engagement program run by the Flamboyan Foundation. Flamboyan developed the Family Engagement Partnership, an intensive, capacity-building intervention in response to input and feedback from DC families, teachers and school leaders. The FEP was piloted with 5 schools in DC during the 2011-2012 school year, and expanded to 27 public and charter schools by 2014-2015.  In addition to the aforementioned student outcomes of better attendance and reading comprehension, teachers at FEP schools scored higher on their effectiveness in lessons, responding to student understanding, and developing students’ higher-level understanding than did teachers at comparable schools.

Carol Sharp, director of parent services for the Sacramento Schools, noticed changes immediately after the first teacher home visits. Sharp cited increases in state scores, improvements in attendance, reduction in vandalism and a drop in student suspensions. (In 1997, the year before home visits began in Sacramento, the District suspended 140 students. In 1998, only 60 students were suspended). Of course, it is challenging to prove that these positive outcomes were caused solely by the teacher home visits, yet long-term research of the program by Dr. Geni Cowan of California State University backs up a number of Sharp’s observations.

Training and Logistics

Districts who have initiated home visit programs have varied in their funding sources and implementation plans. In Sacramento, funding was distributed from the district initially, and later on, the state of California. California voted to provide money for teacher stipends to participate in the Nell Soto Parent/Teacher Involvement Program. Now, teachers are trained by members of the Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT), a coalition of 30 faith-based local groups. Training involves preparation for what teachers might see in homes, discussions of cultural barriers, and includes themes like listening, relationships, academics and capacity building. Under this model, teachers visit the students’ home twice a year, and visits last about an hour. Often visiting in pairs, teachers explain to parents what their children are learning, offer information about getting involved and provide contacts for school and community resources. The teachers also encourage children to show them where they study and allow parents to ask questions.

The DC home visits program is funded through the Flamboyan Foundation, a private family foundation. Other districts have received funding from outside organizations, like the Rotary Club in Iowa City, Iowa. In some cases, Title I programming funds from the federal government can cover training for home visits. And districts like Greenville County in South Carolina have received grants from local universities and charitable organizations.

Investing in a Home Visit Program

Despite the encouraging evidence that teachers visiting families at their homes forges relationships and improves student outcomes, barriers to starting programs and getting individuals to buy-in exist. Concerns about funding, finding time for teacher training, and managing family and teacher schedules are valid. Reluctance from skeptical parents or teachers to participate in this intervention is another real concern.

Evidence from districts that have implemented home visits into their routine of family engagement and academic intervention is reason enough for policymakers to consider education-based home visits legislation. With Health and Human Services awarding $386 million to support families through the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program last February, it seems Washington has acknowledged the power and importance of this intervention. With the joint support and efforts of education and research leaders, funding for teachers coming to a living room near you could be next.

*For more on evidence-based policy-making, see Kyle Hayes’ piece on page 11 of the 2015 Public Purpose Magazine.

Photo source: The Washington Post