In a bustling waiting room, Daria, a young mother, finds a space, pulls a rug from her bag and lays it on the floor. She gathers together a group of young children, sits them down around her, pulls out a brightly colored book, and begins to read to them.
What is remarkable about this scene is that just a few months ago, Daria, a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic with basic English and rudimentary reading skills, was reluctant to read to her own young son, let alone to a group of children surrounded by a crowd of parents.
Fortunately, she has been given help with reading aloud through the Reach Out and Read program at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Daria’s doctor has explained to her, and thousands of other new parents, that cuddling and reading to infants, toddlers and preschoolers is one of the best ways of helping them achieve their full potential.
It is widely accepted that reading aloud to young children is the single most effective activity that will prepare them for success at school. At a time when the achievement gap is wider than ever, and when more than a third of American children start school without the skills necessary for learning, it is disheartening that less than half of the families in the U.S. read together every day. This is often because parents do not understand its importance or because they do not have the confidence to read aloud.
This is where Reach Out and Read makes a difference. More than 21,000 Reach Out and Read medical providers nationwide talk with parents at each pediatric checkup from infancy through five years about the benefits of reading aloud to their children. More importantly, they model how to engage young children with books at each developmental stage.
Claudia Aristy, Reach Out and Read Program Director at Bellevue tells me, “Many of the parents we serve did not grow up with books in the house and so are not comfortable reading aloud. We give them the confidence to read together with their family – And for parents who do not read well, we explain that the most important part of reading aloud is connecting with their children. We show them how to talk about the pictures and create the stories with their own words.
It’s so wonderful to see the transformation from a parent who says, ‘I can’t do this, I’m stupid!’ to one who can enjoy the bonds created through shared time together and who knows that they are giving their child a chance for success at school.”
There are many families who do not have the resources for books at home, and so each child in the Reach Out and Read program takes home a new “doctor-recommended” children’s book. In many cases this is the first book that a family has ever owned and our doctors tell us how the children’s eyes light up at this gift. For those parents whose first language is not English, we offer books in different languages.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized the important role that pediatric providers play in encouraging parents and caregivers to read aloud to their children and the program has one of the strongest records of research support of any primary care intervention. Parents who have participated in the Reach Out and Read program are four times more likely to read to their children and include more children’s books in their home, and children served by the program are three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on vocabulary tests.
Aristy tells me that the impact of the Reach Out and Read program is clear. In a community where the percentage of pupils graduating from high school is typically low, she sees the children that participated in Reach Out and Read growing up and going on to college.
On February 24th, Reach Out and Read will be joining a global celebration on World Read Aloud Day. Bellevue is just one of more than 5,500 Reach Out and Read medical clinics across the U.S. that serve 4.5 million children each year. We are asking all those who believe in the value of reading aloud to young children to take part in our campaign and help more parents like Daria give their children a chance for success. Daria says,
“Reach Out and Read has helped me to give my son a chance to do well at school – I’m so proud to be able to do that for him.”
Most stories we read about maternal deaths are from the developing world. How shocking would it be to learn of a neighbor, friend, or close relative who lost her life while giving birth here in the U.S.? Here’s an example:
Despite living close to a hospital in Arizona, young Melissa faced significant challenges during her pregnancy. As a working mother, Melissa’s time demands caused her to miss several doctor appointments. Without paid leave she had to work until her labor began. As soon as her baby’s fetal heart monitor signaled distress, her doctor ordered an emergency C-section. The procedure was successful and Melissa soon gave birth to a beautiful girl. Tragically, Melissa died at home a few days later when a clot broke free and caused a stroke. Since the hospital was not required by law to follow identified best practices for post-surgical care, she was sent home too early. As a result, her death was not recorded as a maternal death because maternal loss due to adverse events is not reportable per Arizona law.
Since 2000, the world has been marshalling efforts to reduce maternal mortality across the globe. While significant progress has been made in most countries, there are still almost 280,000 women like Melissa who die every year due to pregnancy-related causes. The United States is one of the few countries that has gotten worse; we have slipped by the largest margin of any country. To put this into perspective, more women in the United Sates have died in childbirth since 2001 than soldiers have died in war. Think about that number for a minute. Even with several active war zones, twice as many women have died in childbirth.
Perhaps the reason that fewer soldiers die is because we have improved triage care on the battlefield. This may be true, but it doesn’t fully explain the difference. The underlying difference between the two is the degree of emphasis placed on reducing these losses. On the military front, we have invested and continue to invest substantial resources to care for those who protect our country, and rightfully so. However, relatively little is spent on protecting those who give birth to it. The sad part is that most of these maternal deaths are preventable.
How have several European countries nearly eliminated maternal deaths? What limits our maternal healthcare system from being as robust? Here in the U.S., maternal deaths are still thought of as a private loss. We feel bad for those who have lost a loved one, but we fail to recognize the enormous loss to our society as a whole. Keeping this a private matter limits what we are willing to demand publicly in order to create a safer environment for women. For example, are companies required to provide paid time off for mothers? Without public support, mothers are forced to bear all the risks of childbirth.
Here in the U.S., the problem is practically invisible and goes unaddressed. It’s time to publicly recognize these losses. In order to raise public consciousness about these losses, increase support for laws that will improve maternal care, we need to help people see what families and communities have lost, both at home and around the globe.
Why build a memorial? Wouldn’t it be better to simply invest more money in public health? If money or technology were the problem, then yes, this would be the solution. However, availability of healthcare is not a key challenge in the U.S., but access is. While memorials may not directly solve problems, they allow us to contemplate our personal responsibility to act and create solutions. They symbolize what matters to society, what we value, and demonstrate our will to do something about it.
Mother’s Monument exists to build memorials to publicly recognize the loss of mothers in childbirth. We will not forget their sacrifice. Beyond that, through the process of building a memorial, a community can come together to solve these problems. It is possible to create a world where we all focus on finding collective solutions to environmental and community-wide issues, a world where we can save the greatest number of lives.
It starts with a monument, brings together a community, and changes a mother’s world. Get involved at MothersMonument.org
About the Mothers Monument Project:
The end of the film
On January 26, 2015, episode one of A Path Appears, “Sex Trafficking in the U.S.A.” aired on screens across the nation. The story began and ended for viewers around the world in under two hours; however, the harsh reality of sex trafficking continues — to this day — to affect victims across the nation.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 3,093 reports of sex trafficking in 2015 alone. Over 90 percent of the cases reported were of women, and 35 percent were children. Globally, the International Labour Organization estimates that 4.5 million individuals are forced into sexual exploitation each year. Ninety-eight percent of these individuals are women, and 20 percent are children.
In the United States, prostitution is distinguished from sex trafficking in that prostitution does not involve external force or coercion. Under this definition, approximately 47,598 individuals were arrested for prostitution in 2014. However, studies have found that nearly 80 percent of women charged with prostitution are coerced or forced into sexual exploitation. Women engaged in sex work typically enter the industry when they are 12 to 16-years-old.
Thistle Farms has found that, on average, residents and graduates first experience sexual abuse between the ages of 7-11 and first use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism as early as age 13. These women spend an average of 10 years on the street before finding freedom. All of Thistle Farms’ residents and graduates have survived rape and/or sexual abuse. For the majority of women, sex work is not a choice. It is one piece of an aggressive cycle that often includes abuse, drug addiction, homelessness, and selling one’s body out of desperation.
Changing the story
At Thistle Farms, we continue to break this cycle by providing housing, physical and emotional healing, and employment to survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution in Nashville, TN. As a result, the stories of survivors change. Eighty-four percent of residents at Thistle Farms graduate the two-year residential program clean and sober; since 2005, 62 percent of graduates of the residential program have remained in stable housing, are working, and are sober. In 2015, alone, residents and graduates employed at Thistle Farms social enterprises earned a combined total of $825,000 in income.
Why show the film?
The challenge to the viewer, and to each of us, is to not let the story end once the film is over. Keep showing the film, because if you do it will change a life. When A Path Appears premiered on January 26th, Thistle Farms’ website welcomed 6,934 visitors in one day, attracting over 3,470 new Facebook fans and garnering record online product sales. As a result, it was a monumental day and an incredible year for the residents and graduates at Thistle Farms: Anika purchased her first home; Kristin drove her children to school for the first time; Lori relished her first glimpse of the ocean; and Jovita spoke in front of a crowd of hundreds.
These survivor-leaders’ stories are changing because of you. The cycle is being broken, and women at Thistle Farms are finding freedom.