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Difficult economic times can take a toll on children

Pink slips and foreclosure notices don't come addressed to children, but they suffer, too. Even those who don't yet understand the difference between Wall Street and Sesame Street can pick up on tension in their parents' voices or overhear snippets of conversations they have behind closed doors. From temper tantrums to skipping doctor's visits, bad times take a toll on the young and vulnerable. Public safety nets can help. Even families that don't need them can learn simple steps that go miles in keeping kids healthy.

Kids losing health care

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Tampa's St. Joseph's Children's Hospital has seen a nearly 25 percent jump this year in children showing up for emergency center treatment who don't require a hospital stay. Administrator Michael Aubin says many are coming in with minor emergencies and illnesses that became acute because families didn't seek care sooner. That anecdotal evidence is in line with a national report that ties higher unemployment rates to children losing health insurance. Researchers at the University of Florida's Institute for Child Health Policy estimated that 115,000 children lost employer-based coverage last year. Most probably were absorbed by public programs, but that still left many without coverage. And even more parents have lost their jobs in recent months. Florida KidCare, the government health care umbrella for children, has seen steady growth, but not the spike you would expect in this economy. With 30,000 slots for children to enroll, it's ramping up efforts to reach the newly uninsured. The Healthy Kids program targets families making too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but that can't afford private insurance. The state has options for children whose parents lost their jobs.

KidCare and Healthy Kids: www.healthykids.org.

Kids feel stressed, too
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There aren't registries tracking how many children are withdrawn at dinner, underperforming at school, fighting with siblings or acting out their anxieties. But kids pick up on stress, even if parents aren't talking about it. "Children are emotional barometers of the family emotional climate," said Dr. Mark Cavitt, medical director of pediatric psychiatry at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. Parents should have honest, age-appropriate conversations with their children, Cavitt said. That doesn't mean detailing a possible bankruptcy or foreclosure to a young child. Discuss what it means to live on less money. Kids can get involved as problem solvers. Maybe they'll volunteer to take a cut in allowance or pitch in with household chores. Remember that existing family problems, including domestic and substance abuse issues, may become even greater concerns in these trying times.
Baby bites to nutrition
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Pregnant women and mothers are struggling to properly feed babies during a critical period of development. In each of the past two years, participation has increased by 10 percent in Florida WIC, a federally funded program for women, infants and children. It provides supplemental foods, nutrition counseling and breast-feeding support to low-income women, infants and children younger than 5. Who isn't trying to stretch food dollars these days? Take a smart shopping tip from WIC's nutrition counselors and try to work more beans into the family diet. Beans pack a lot of nutrition into affordable meals.

WIC: www.floridawic.org.

Fighting hunger in school
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More children are going to school hungry. The percentage of students in the Tampa Bay area qualifying for free and reduced lunches increased this year. In Hillsborough, 53 percent of students come from families close enough to the poverty line to sign up. In Pinellas and Pasco counties, it's 45 and 48 percent, respectively. And these figures tend to be conservative, since older students are often too embarrassed to take advantage. Even for families paying full price, school lunches can be a real bargain. Steer children to the hot-food line, where meals are planned around federal nutrition and calorie guidelines, and tell them not to waste money at the kiosks on takeout pizza and cookies.

Difficult economic times can take a toll on children 04/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 9:21pm]

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