Revamping Pediatric Education: A Focus on Children in Custodial Settings for Health Equity

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Zara Nwosu
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Revamping Pediatric Education: A Focus on Children in Custodial Settings for Health Equity

The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Children's Health

Mass incarceration significantly affects the health of children, especially those from low-income neighborhoods. This issue goes beyond just the children held in custody, extending to their families and communities. The stress and trauma associated with having a family member in prison can lead to mental health issues, behavioral problems, and poor academic performance among children.

The Gap in Medical Education

Despite the profound consequences of mass incarceration on children's health, there is a glaring gap in the education of medical students and pediatric trainees. Current national curricular competencies lack specific training requirements on the care of youth in custody. This oversight fails to equip our future healthcare providers with the necessary skills and knowledge to address the unique health needs of this vulnerable population.

An Urgent Call for Change

Recognizing this critical issue, the 2023-2024 American Pediatric Society president's issue of the year emphasizes the need for medical education on youth in custody. The call to action aims to incorporate this topic into the national educational objectives and standardize pediatric curriculum for medical students, residents, and fellows. This initiative is an essential step towards advancing the field.

Education and Professional Development Opportunities

Several organizations and programs are already making strides in supporting the education and professional development of physicians working in carceral settings. For instance, the New York City Administration for Children's Services hires Youth Development Specialists to work with young people in detention facilities. These specialists receive a combination of classroom and hands-on training, preparing them to better serve at-risk youth.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare can play a significant role in addressing the health disparities faced by marginalized youth. Medical students and pediatric trainees can leverage these initiatives to improve healthcare delivery to youth in custody. This approach will also contribute to health equity in the broader community.

Protecting the Best Interests of Youth in Custody

The ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) has policies in place to protect the interests of unaccompanied alien children in custody. Additionally, the Juvenile Intervention Program provides resources and support to families, aiming to prevent youth from engaging in negative behaviors that could lead to incarceration. These programs and policies are crucial in protecting the rights and ensuring the wellbeing of children in custodial settings.

The Role of Education in Reducing Recidivism

Education for incarcerated youth is vital in reducing recidivism and improving their quality of life. Bills like H.B. 278 and S.B. 78 aim to expand access to education for incarcerated youth in Utah, providing necessary support for their education. However, there is still much work to be done in improving prison conditions and increasing access to education for incarcerated individuals across the country.

Conclusion

As our understanding of the health impacts of mass incarceration continues to grow, it is imperative that we equip medical students and pediatric trainees with the skills and knowledge needed to serve this marginalized population. By incorporating education on youth in custody into the national curricular competencies and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare, we can work towards achieving health equity for all children.