May 1 was another day for me, albeit, not in my normal classroom. Instead, I joined with thousands of other teachers from across the state and took my classroom to the streets. For me, it was just another day, but for the one pictured on my chest, it was an important day. I marched for many reasons, foremost among them, my students. But May 1 was a little more personal.
This child asleep against my chest is why I marched on May 1. She is my foster daughter, an individual placed into a system that was not her choice. During the time she remains in the foster care system, she will remain on Medicaid. She is not alone. In North Carolina, there are approximately 11,000 children who exist in the foster care system.
Remember, this number is only reflective of the number of children who have been officially placed into the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services. This does not account for the approximately 897 families, and 26,361 children (as of 2016) who are considered homeless, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, two in every five children in North Carolina are covered by Medicaid.
I could write you a book on the tribulations that our family has had to deal with when addressing Medicaid and finding doctors that will accept Medicaid. Not to mention the limited access our foster daughter has in order to create a well-rounded, healthy life, all steered by Medicaid. Allow me to paint you one picture.
I have the distinct honor of serving as one of North Carolina’s Regional Teachers of the Year for 2019, and another Regional Teacher of the Year in our current cohort is also a foster parent. They have had the privilege of being the temporary home to at least six children. In one of these cases, this foster parent had a young toddler who had a medical emergency in the evening.
The parent, as many of us would, took the child to urgent care as opposed to the ER to save on both time and money. However, they were turned away from receiving service at this Urgent Care because this particular location did not accept Medicaid. Ultimately, this foster parent had to resolve taking their toddler to the ER, where they waited for several hours to be seen for a minor issue.
While my situation and the other Regional TOY are both personal, please understand that they are not anomalies; especially to us as teachers. On a regular basis, teachers serve students who fall into categories of homelessness and poverty that propel them into lives without quality health and access to services. Our students deserve access to quality health benefits that will help create a healthier and more stable environment for learning from birth through their school career.
Further research has proven the long term benefits of expanding programs such as Medicaid. In eduspeak, we call this being a part of the whole-child. If we are to be a state that is a catalyst toward equity in education (as I pray we will be), then we must consider the long-term benefits of expanding our Medicaid reach.
I march for this little one’s unknown future. Maybe it’s back in the arms of her parents, maybe it’s in the comfort of our hands as a forever home, and maybe it’s somewhere in between those two spaces. Regardless, she (and all other children) deserves the absolute best life that we can offer her.