The 1,437 parents whom we surveyed reported considerable exposure to the oil spill as well as a number of physical and mental health problems among their children. The key findings were:
Survey Findings: Phase 3
Exposure to the oil spill: Over half of the parents interviewed in these highly-impacted communities reported that their children had some type of oil spill-related exposure, whether it was through physical, environmental, or economic factors. One in every five parents said their children had direct contact with the oil; one in four reported smelling strong oil-related odors; and two of every five said their household had lost income or a job since the oil spill.
Health effects: A little over 40% of parents in these highly-impacted communities reported some type of health effect experienced by their children since the oil spill. About one in five parents said their children had experienced breathing problems and a similar number reported emotional or behavioral issues. One in seven reported skin problems.
Exposure matters: All other things being equal – regardless as to where people live, how much money they make, or whether or not they have health insurance and a family doctor for their children – parents who reported that their children had been directly exposed to the oil spill or dispersants were three times as likely to report new physical or mental health problems among their children when compared to those parents who reported that their children had not been exposed. Parents in households that had lost income or a job since the spill were nearly twice as likely to report new physical and mental health problems among their children.
Community Interviews: Phase 3
The survey and focus groups revealed the following:
- Parents were greatly concerned for their children’s health and well-being, particularly a lack of access to high-quality pediatric care, specialty and mental healthcare, and to providers who accepted Medicaid.
- Parents also worried that unsupervised and “latchkey” children and dwindling recreational and occupational opportunities for children were leading to many harmful or unsafe behaviors and harming children’s mental health and social well-being.
- Parents (and often caregiving grandparents) who were unable to provide their families with such basics as food, clothing, or shelter were experiencing depression and diminished parenting skills, and engaging in harmful or addictive behaviors.
- Community leaders, school officials, and providers believed that communities were losing their ability to sustain economic opportunities and safety net programs, and to retain enough healthcare providers to meet the needs of families and children.
- Communities suffered if their culture or livelihood was directly dependent upon the Gulf waters or a part of the long supply chains that supported the coastal economy. For some communities, these negative impacts compounded pre-existing problems of social isolation and poverty and lingering damage from Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession.
Children and youth in the areas affected by the oil spill need pathways to a healthier and more productive future, and a sense that they control their own destiny. Children and their families also need access to a robust health system that can address their primary care, preventive, specialty care and mental health needs.