BestStart Washington is committed to ensuring that all children and youth in Washington State have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. We recognize that entrenched structural racism is an unacceptable barrier to child health and potential.
In our pediatric practices, we see first-hand the negative health outcomes that arise from racism including increased infant mortality, low birth weight, increased incidence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), decreased school readiness, higher school drop-out rates, and mental health problems stemming from chronic stress. We agree with our partners in King County that racism is a public health crisis with many families of color lacking sufficient access to health care and other resources to support child health and resiliency. As pediatric leaders, we have a responsibility to do much more in our practices and in our communities to end structural racism and combat its effects on child health.
We have found overwhelming evidence that nature access is a critical resource that promotes stronger physical and mental health outcomes for children. We launched Project Nature with the knowledge that children today spend less and less time exploring and moving in outdoor nature. For children and families of color this nature gap is especially stark. Historically, white-controlled systems of power—like segregation and red-lining—deliberately denied access to green spaces, parks, and pools for persons and communities of color. Constraints of money and time are also barriers for some families, especially when paired with the reality that greenspaces and parks can be severely limited in underserved communities.
We pledge to listen to families of color. With Project Nature, we are committed to building communication with black, brown, Native American and traditionally under-represented minority communities. In several studies, we have surveyed parents to ask them how often they are able to connect their children with the outdoors and what barriers they face. We recognize that fear can come with venturing out in nature as a person of color. We offer nature play kits and information to families to encourage nature contact. We are creating partnerships with like-minded individuals and organizations who are determined to create a reality where a child’s race or ethnicity will never prevent them from experiencing the joy and good health that time outdoors can bring.
Our work with BestStart Washington and Project Nature is just one small part of our larger commitment. We look forward to working with our health care colleagues in counties and in diverse communities across the state to continue to brainstorm, create, and weave together a fabric of solutions that ensures optimal health and developmental outcomes for all children in Washington.
Kimberlee Hauff, MD FAAP
Edgar K. Marcuse, MD, MPH, FAAP