In 2018, ONT conducted a regional needs assessment to better understand for whom and why food insecurity continued to be a significant problem. Nearly half of those testing positive for food insecurity were parents or grandparents with children 0-18 in the home. For these families, the number one reported reason for worrying about or going without adequate, quality food was not having enough money to cover the expenses of living, including being able to buy enough food.
In the survey, ONT asked if these families were using any private or public programs to help keep food on the table. These responses were just as troubling:
With this information in hand, ONT has set out to reach these families and we’re starting where we know most families go: the pediatrician’s office! Thanks to Massachusetts’ strong focus on access to health care over the last 15 years, nearly all children are seen regularly by their pediatrician. In 2018, ONT partnered with Newburyport-based Children’s Health Care to ensure that screening for food insecurity would be an integral part of providing preventive care to children across our region.
The ONT-CHC partnership builds on a growing interest in the health care field to integrate “Social Determinants of Health” into health care. These are the non-medical factors that can influence someone’s well-being, like poverty, pollution, or community violence, and, research shows, has strong correlations to increased illnesses and costs of health care.
In early 2019, ONT trained 75 CHC staff – physicians, nurse practitioners, medical assistants and even office staff – on the prevalence and effects of food insecurity in our region, how to discuss concerns with caregivers in a compassionate manner, and, most importantly, how to connect families with ONT’s Food Resource Advocate to ensure they will get connected with helpful and much-needed food resources.
Food insecurity is a community problem, and it is also a very personal matter. Parents are guarded and, for many reasons, fearful of talking about their struggles. Through this partnership, ONT and CHC are building trust and offering real solutions to local families. The goal: no more families fall through the cracks and every child and their parent have the nourishing food they need to thrive.