October is Children’s Environmental Health Month! Oh, you didn’t know? This month may be better known for ghouls and goblins, but our Lead and Toxics Team has put together a series of blog posts that are sure to give you goosebumps.
We’ve spent the last couple of weeks discussing lead and toxics, and why testing and protection matters. We’ve provided recommendations for healthcare providers and parents, and we’ve talked about some of the policy work that has been happening at the state and local level. But, there’s still more to do, and we want to do it right, providing resources and solutions to communities that work for them. We sat down with Candace Jackson, Lead and Toxics Educator, to learn more about next steps for community-based lead and toxics outreach.
Q: Candace, why does community-based work matter?
A: Government has a reputation for creating one-size-fits-all campaigns and policy. Though well intended, it’s hard to solve a problem for someone else – especially without having walked in their shoes. That means we have to ask the right questions and make space for conversation and problem-solving with communities from a variety of places and backgrounds.
Public Health is in a unique position to become a bridge – an agency that can connect communities to services or provide services directly. By being transparent and accountable when we collaborate with communities, we can create solutions that fit them best and earn trust along the way. I’m reminded of a quote, “Nothing about us, without us.” This is where I start.
Q: What is an example of this in action?
A: Our team in Public Health has been working to identify communities that are at the greatest risk from exposures. To start this work, we got together with Living Well Kent and the Somali Health Board to conduct informal surveys of community members. From there, broader conversations began.
The community conversations have revealed a consistent theme – people are concerned that their health may be impacted by toxics in their home. We are collaborating with Living Well Kent and Futurewise to bring the topic of lead and toxics into existing conversations about rental housing quality and standards. In addition to addressing immediate needs, we know that sustainable change requires shifting our systems and policies so that kids growing up today have more healthy housing choices as adults.
Q: What are some steps our readers can do to participate in this work?
A: First, become knowledgeable and think critically about how toxics impact you and your family. We’ve done some thinking about this and have been working with the King County Board of Health to support them in creating guidelines and recommendations for healthy housing. Please take a moment to look at what we’ve done and tell us what you think. Your feedback on these strategies is important to shaping this work! Click here to take a quick survey.
Besides the survey, you can start by getting curious and asking questions of me and others in your community. I would be happy to talk with you about our efforts, share information with you about toxics, and listen to ideas you may have to strengthen these efforts. Toxics can be a hidden issue that impacts families silently and for years. Making this part of our family and community conversation is more important than ever.
Q: What are some challenges of this work?
A: Not sure I can narrow it down to a couple as the challenges are interconnected and institutionalized for both the community and for Public Health. From a community perspective, there is so much nuanced information to learn that is often scary and overwhelming. How can anyone be expected to add this into their already overloaded and stress-filled life? And, unfortunately, government has been seen by some as slow to change with an eye to data-driven decisions. Some fear that their experiences are not reflected and accepted as data. We have to show people we are listening by investing the necessary time and resources. That’s where my team and I come in.
Q: How do you define success for this work?
A: Success will happen incrementally, with the long-view being happy, healthy families – regardless of demographic factors. But, there’s a lot more to it than that.
Success is also an intentional shift in process and doing things differently to engage those with the most risk factors. We will know that our conversations are successful when we see that families have what they need to make different choices about risk and feel empowered to participate in systems and policy change. Our success with communities reflects a similar philosophy. We’ll feel satisfied when communities and systems (like government agencies) are able to co-develop and share lead and toxics information, and when our communities are better connected to those same systems. Ultimately, success is setting our children up to reach their full potential so that they can carry the messaging forward.