Celebrating Legislative Successes in 2018—Children’s Health

This week, Illinois gets a new governor and a new General Assembly. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the substantial legislative gains on issues Illinois PTA supported affecting our children and youth in the areas of health, including mental health, safety, gun control, social and emotional learning, and special education. You can help continue our success by adding your voice to our voice on February 6, 2019 for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield. In today’s article, we look back at new laws covering children’s health and mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Training

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), although 1 in 5 children in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, only 21% of affected children actually receive needed treatment. The results of the failure to identify these disorders can lead to isolation, depression, violence, drug use, or suicide. Identification of these issues is the first step in obtaining necessary treatment. Public Act (PA) 100-0903(formerly House Bill 4658) amends the School Codeconcerning Mental Health Awareness to provide for the in-service training of licensed school personnel and administrators to identify the warning signs of mental illness and suicidal behavior in youth from kindergarten through 12thgrade.

Flu and Meningitis Vaccine Information

In terms of overall health, we supported Senate Bill 2654 (SB2654), now PA 100-0977 which requires the development and provision of much-needed information regarding influenza and meningococcal disease and their related vaccinesto the parents and guardians of students. Both illnesses can lead to a substantial number of days lost from school for students, and, in the worst cases, can lead to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meningococcal related illnesses, which can include certain infections in the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and bloodstream infections, are often severe and can be deadly. With respect to influenza, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there were 174 pediatric deaths from influenza during this past flu season. While influenza and meningococcal diseases are highly preventable with these vaccines, many parents and guardians do not have adequate information on these diseases and the vaccines to make appropriate choices for their children.

HPV Vaccine Information

We also supported SB2866, now PA 100-0741 which requires the provision of Human Papillomavirus Vaccination (HPV) informationby the Department of Public Health to all students entering sixth grade and their parents or legal guardians so that families have the information available and can choose to protect their children with vaccinations before they are ever exposed to the HPV virus. According to the CDC, HPV causes approximately 31,500 new cases of cancer each year. Both the CDC and the AAP recommend immunization against HPV for all 11-year-old through 12-year-old children as part of the adolescent immunization platform.

Asthma and Allergies

Two new statutes that amend the School Code concern students with asthma and/or allergies. For millions of children with allergies and asthma, pollens, molds and exposure to potential allergens and viruses in class can take a high toll. According to the CDC, asthma, which can be triggered by allergies and respiratory illnesses, is one of the major reasons why students miss school. PA 100-0726(formerly SB3015)amends the School Code regarding Asthma Medication Administrationto provide that a school district or school may authorize a school nurse or other trained personnel to: provide undesignated asthma medication to a student for self-administration or to personnel authorized to administer the medication pursuant to a student’s Health Care Action Plan, asthma action plan, IEP, or 504 Plan (“Student Plans”); administer undesignated asthma medication that meets the prescription on file to any student with a Student Plan; and, if necessary, administer an undesignated asthma medication to any person that they believe in good faith to be in respiratory distress. Additionally, the statute provides for a training curriculum to ensure that the signs and symptoms of respiratory distress are recognized and responded to appropriately, and permits a supply of asthma medication to be maintained in a secure location that is accessible before, during or after school.

PA 100-0799 – the Epinephrine Injector Act(formerly SB2889) will allow school districts to choose the least expensive drug option to have on hand in the event of an anaphylactic reaction. Allergies and anaphylactic reactions continue to be important health concerns for many school age children. Statistically, twenty-five percent (25%) of first time allergic reactions occur in a school setting. The time to respond to a severe allergic reaction with appropriate treatment is critical. However, recent increases in the cost of the epinephrine auto-injectors have made their availability difficult for schools. The Epinephrine Injector Act gives them options for less costly, but still effective treatment for children and youth undergoing an anaphylactic reaction.

Dental Exams Before 9thGrade

In terms of dental health, we supported HB4908, now PA100-0829 regarding Dental Examinations for Youths. According to the AAP, there are a number of reasons to have a dental exam beyond the fact that early childhood dental caries is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Many diseases, including diabetes, certain autoimmune system disorders, and cancer, can be detected in a dental oral exam before symptoms show up elsewhere. This statute now adds the requirement that all children in ninth grade have a dental examinations.

Take Action

Do we have more to do? Every day! How can you help? Sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Networkto stay up to date on issues, and  join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.

 

Making Indoor Recess Active

Now that cold weather has arrived in Illinois, along with a bit of snow, many schools will be holding indoor recess. Parents for Healthy Kidsrecently featured an article on how to work with school administrators and teachers to ensure that indoor recess still gives kids the opportunity to be active.

The article provides several tips that PTAs can use to build an indoor recess plan that helps kids burn off energy. Among them are:

  • Look at space and schedule availability. What areas are not in use at certain times where kids could jump rope or move around without disrupting other classes?
  • Create recess bags with goodies to help teachers run indoor recess in the classroom. Include items like jump ropes, foam balls, fitness videos (e.g., GoNoodle’s Indoor Recess series), movement dice, and yoga cards so teachers have activities right at hand.
  • Enlist parent volunteers to help teachers with indoor recess.
  • Get student input to find out what kids would like to do during indoor recess.
  • Establish recess procedures that make sure all students are active and safe while not disturbing the class next door.

Find more tips in the articleand additional resources on keeping kids healthy and active at Parents for Healthy Kids.

Photo courtesy US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Alexnadre Montes.

Acute Flaccid Myelitis in U.S. Children

Families may have recently heard news stories about children suddenly developing weakness in their arms or legs. The condition, called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) is extremely rare (the chances of having AFM is one in one million), but the number of cases has increased sharply in recent years (396 confirmed cases from August 2014 to September 2018). Here is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has to say about the condition.

Parents may be hearing about children in the United States who suddenly became weak in their arms or legs from a condition called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. This condition is not new, but the increase in cases we saw starting in 2014 is new. There are different possible causes, such as viruses and environmental toxins. AFM affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, which can cause the muscles and reflexes in the body not to work normally.

In August 2014, CDC was made aware of an increased number of people, mostly children, with AFM. Since then, we’ve been working hard to better understand AFM, what puts people at risk of getting it, and the possible causes. AFM remains rare (less than one in a million people), even with the recent increase in cases. However, AFM is serious, and we don’t yet know what causes most people to get it or how to protect people from getting AFM. As we continue to learn about AFM, we urge parents to seek medical care right away if their child develops symptoms of AFM.

Symptoms of AFM

AFM is rare, but it can lead to serious neurologic problems. You should seek medical care right away if you or your child develops any of these symptoms:

  • weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the arms or legs
  • facial droop or weakness
  • difficulty moving the eyes
  • drooping eyelids
  • difficulty swallowing
  • slurred speech

Infections That Can Cause Conditions like AFM

Certain viruses, such as poliovirusand West Nile virus, may sometimes lead to conditions like AFM. You can protect yourself and your children from these viruses by:

  • Making sure you are all up to date on polio vaccinations.
  • Protecting against bites from mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus, by using mosquito repellent, staying indoors at dusk and dawn (when bites are more common), and removing standing or stagnant water near your home (where mosquitoes can breed).

What CDC is Doing About AFM

CDC has been investigating AFM since we were made aware of an increased number of people with this condition in August 2014.

We have done extensive lab testing on specimens from patients, but have not determined what caused most of these people to get AFM. It is unclear what pathogen (germ) or immune response caused the arm or leg weakness and paralysis. AFM may have a variety of possible causes such as viruses and environmental toxins.

We are continuing to learn as much as we can about AFM by looking at each case to figure out what puts people at risk of getting this condition and what is causing it. Also, we are urging doctors to be alert for patients with symptoms of AFM and to report patients under investigation for AFM to their health departments.

If you would like to learn more about what CDC is doing, please visit CDC’s AFM in the United States website. If you would like to learn more about AFM, please visit CDC’s acute flaccid myelitis website.

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Life can be stressful at times, even for kids. Concerns about grades, peer pressure, friend issues, bullying, traumatic events, and more can lead to stress. Some stress can be productive—cortisol, the “stress hormone,” increases blood sugar, metabolism, and memory function, and provides a temporary boost to physical and mental ability. Those brief periods of stress can be productive and help a child be motivated to accomplish tasks that might be a little intimidating.

However, when stressful feelings continue over time, cortisol impairs brain functioning and suppresses the immune system. During childhood when the brain is still connecting the neural circuits for dealing with stress, chronic stress can rewire the brain to become overly reactive or slow to shut down when faced with threats. Chronic stress in childhood can evenincrease the risk of diseases in adulthood.

How to Cope with Stress

Much of how to cope with stress applies to anyone, adults or children.

  • Take care of SELF (Sleep, Exercise, Leisure, and Food)—get plenty of sleep, get some exercise, do something fun and relaxing to take a break, and eat healthy.
  • Talk to others, sharing your problems and how you are feeling and coping.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol—while they may seem to ease stress in the short term, over the long term they create problems that increase stress.
  • Take a break from what’s causing your stress.
  • Recognize when you need more help.

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Stress often comes in part from feeling unable to manage what life is giving you, and for children, there are many things that can leave them feeling helpless, as they have less experience in dealing with difficulties. Keep in mind the coping strategies above, and talk with your child to help them to process what is causing their stress. Additional ways you can help your child cope are:

  • Maintain a normal routine—familiarity helps to provide a sense of stability.
  • Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Give your child opportunities to talk, but don’t force them. Listen to what their thoughts, feelings, and worries are, and share some of yours. Keep the lines of communication open, and check in with them to see how they feel after a week, a month, or more.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any changes in behavior, including sleeping, eating, and connecting with friends. Even small changes may indicate your child is having trouble dealing with stress.
  • Reassure your child about their safety and well-being, particularly if the stress is caused by a traumatic event.
  • Connect with others—your child’s teachers and other parents may have additional suggestions on how to help your child cope.
  • Promote a growth mindset. If your child is stressed about their grades or school work, developing a growth mindset can help. Research indicatesthat while many students’ stress levels increase after receiving a bad grade, students who believe that intelligence can be developed are more likely to see academic setbacks as temporary, they stress less over a bad grade, and they return to normal stress levels more quickly afterwards.

What Schools Can Do

Teachers and other school personnel see students almost as much as their families during the week, so they may also notice children exhibiting signs of stress. In addition, some student stress may stem from poor academic performance, bullying, or other stressful situations related to school (e.g., worries about safety after news coverage of a school shooting). Here’s how schools can help students cope with stress:

  • Reach out and talk. Create opportunities for students to talk, but don’t force them. Try asking questions like, what do you think about these events, or how do you think these things happen? You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation. When children talk about their feelings, it can help them cope and to know that different feelings are normal.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students talking more or less? Withdrawing from friends? Acting out? Are they behaving in any way out of the ordinary? These changes may be early warning signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.
  • Maintain normal routines. A regular classroom schedule can provide reassurance and promote a sense of stability and safety.
  • Take care of yourself. You can better support students if you are healthy, coping, and taking care of yourself first.

Resources

If you need to reach out for extra support or immediate help, contact one of the following crisis hotlines:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
  • Youth Mental Health Line: 1-888-568-1112
  • Child-Help USA: 1-800-422-4453 (coping with stress)
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990