Ensuring that families of all ethnic backgrounds access the health care they need to be healthy is one of the most important things we can do for our nation’s children. We at Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio (CDF-Ohio) recently released a new report, Reaching Ohio’s Ethnic Minority Children, outlining strategies for getting more ethnic minority children and pregnant mothers the health care they need. 

In Ohio, approximately 140,000 children lack health insurance. Of those, about 73 percent are eligible for, but not enrolled in, Ohio’s Medicaid program. These children could be accessing free health coverage, but they’re not. CDF-Ohio has long been concerned about the fact that children of color, children in low-income families, children with disabilities, and other marginalized children disproportionately lack access to health care. This impacts their health both in the present and throughout their lives. Within the communities of color we advocate for in Ohio, the marginalization is exacerbated for children who belong to ethnic minority populations – particularly populations with Limited English Proficiency. CDF-Ohio’s new report provides a snapshot of the Asian, African, and Latino populations in Ohio, and makes culturally-competent, community-driven recommendations about how to more widely enroll children and ensure that they are using their health coverage. This is an important next step in identifying and fighting health disparities and improving health outcomes for children in Ohio – and in other states across the country.

Many Ohioans don’t know that Columbus, Ohio’s biggest city, is home to the second largest population of Somali immigrants in the United States. Ethnic African families frequently relocate to Ohio. Reaching ethnic minority populations like Columbus’ Somalis, or the significant Burmese population in Akron, for example, requires community-driven, targeted outreach. Recommendations from the report include:

  • Training bilingual outreach workers who are members of the targeted communities and are familiar with a region’s individual needs. For example, the Ohio Hispanic Coalition’s Promotoras de Salud program trains health advisors to assist their neighbors on how to access health care services. The focus of the promotoras is to ensure that immigrants with limited or no English proficiency receive assistance and guidance.
  • Providing enrollment and health care information at existing social service programs, such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESL) classes and after school programming. In Cleveland, Asian Services in Action operates after school programming for children and disseminates needed information and materials to parents at pick up and drop off, or in children’s school materials.
  • Working with trusted community institutions. Somali mosques and the imams who lead them are a key source of disseminating information and messages – working with them is a much more efficient way to spread information to the Somali community.
  • Looking to other states’ successes – and failures – and learning from those lessons. The report contains a section highlighting some outreach efforts targeting ethnic minority communities in other states. For example, Farmworker Justice in North Carolina partnered with four community-based organizations to start a campaign that connects rural Latino families to Medicaid and CHIP.

A primary takeaway from this work has been that statewide advocacy organizations, like ours, cannot effectively lead outreach and education efforts that target ethnic minority and immigrant populations without directly engaging with and building on expertise and relationships with community-based organizations. They know the institutions, alternative media sources, and community leaders who can best connect with the families who need to be reached, and they are necessary to building and maintaining trust in communities.

We believe that we must work together with policymakers, other advocates, state agencies, and community-based partners to end health disparities and reduce the rates of uninsured children across the nation. Our report provides a starting place in Ohio, with concrete suggestions on how to reach marginalized families and children. We must start there, and then continue to organize to put policies in place that advance health equity and encourage a healthier and more just society for everyone.

Sarah Biehl
Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio
Policy Director