First-Ever Health of Boston’s Children Report Released

The study, conducted by Boston Children's Hospital and the Boston Public Health Commission, identifies opportunities to support families and communities through health.

Mayor Tom Menino and representatives from the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) and Boston Children’s Hospital announced on Thursday the findings of a new report focused on the health of Boston’s children and adolescents. The Health of Boston’s Children: Parent and Caregiver Perspectives report is the product of a partnership between the BPHC and Boston Children’s.

The project includes a survey of 2,100 parents and caregivers about a variety of health-related issues for children from birth to age 17 and examines the demographics of Boston’s children and families, child health and health services, home and school lives, engagement with community resources, special health care needs, and parent and caregiver experiences raising children in Boston. The study also provides a snapshot of access to and the utilization of health care services in the city.

“The information in this report is incredibly valuable as we consider the best ways to help children and families in our city become even healthier,” Mayor Menino said during an event at Boston Children’s Martha Eliot Health Center in Jamaica Plain. “We heard directly from parents and caregivers, the most important sources of information on a child’s health. Their input gave us a clearer picture of what we’re doing well and, more importantly, what challenges we have to address. I want to thank Boston Children’s Hospital for their partnership and support of this unique project.”

According to the report, Boston surpasses the national average for insuring children, and a majority of families in the city take advantage of the increased access to care. More than 90 percent of children in the city have at least one go-to place for care, usually a community health center, doctor’s office, or a hospital outpatient department. Studies say that having a usual place of care makes it more likely that a person’s medical and dental needs will be met.

A higher percentage of Boston’s children undergo preventive medical visits compared to the rest of the country, but the use of preventive dental care is in line with state and national percentages. While as a city we are above average or at least on par with state and national averages in most categories, there is one area that we could improve greatly: access to behavioral health services. The report notes that this area continues to be another challenge for many families.

“We want to thank Mayor Menino and the Boston Public Health Commission for their leadership in this project,” said Dr. Kevin Churchwell, COO and executive vice president of health affairs at Boston Children’s Hospital. “The study has provided us with crucial details on child health challenges across neighborhoods and communities in Boston, which will be used to identify where and how we can be the most impactful in improving the health of Boston’s youth.”

The findings also show the differences in health and health care that exists between the different communities in Boston, a majority-minority city where more than a quarter of families with children live in poverty.

The report says that white children and children from higher income households with higher rates of educational attainment among parents and caregivers tended to have better overall health than Latino children and children from households with lower family incomes and rates of educational attainment. In addition, a higher percentage of children from households living below the federal poverty level were born prematurely, which often leads to poorer health outcomes later in life, compared to children from families living above the federal poverty level.

The report also says that 20 percent of black and Latino children had witnessed violence in their neighborhood compared to five percent of white children:

[This] also underscores the need for continued work around violence prevention strategies. BPHC works closely with city agencies such as the Boston Police Department, Boston Public Schools (BPS), Boston Centers for Youth & Families, and community partners to engage youth in positive after school and work experiences, to educate children and youth of all ages about healthy ways to resolve conflict and cope with stress, and to intervene with at-risk youth.  Similarly, Boston Children’s has partnerships with BPS and several community agencies to support children’s behavioral health and development and has developed a comprehensive behavioral health model, which was piloted in several schools last year.

The study is based on the Boston Survey of Children’s Health, and is the first of three parts:

[The study] was modeled after the National Survey of Children’s Health, which allowed researchers to compare health outcomes and experiences of Boston’s children and families with those of children and families across Massachusetts and the United States. It represents the first portion of the three-part Boston Child Health Study. In the coming months, an assessment of environmental factors that impact child health using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and data on the food environment in three communities will be released. The final piece of the study involves an analysis of health insurance claims data that will help to ascertain disease prevalence among Boston children and patterns in health care utilization.

The full report can be found at