Census 2020: Every child counts to ensure health equity

Drawing showing arms and hands in different colors with a band that says census 2020.
Your census data will help secure federal support for a number of key health and safety programs serving kids and families. (Image: Patrick Bibbins/Boston Children's Hospital)

With much of the world focused on the new coronavirus, it’s hard for many of us to think about anything else. But one important task that needs everyone’s attention is the 2020 census form. With many offices and schools currently closed, now is the perfect time to complete your census and make sure all your children are counted. You should be getting the census in the mail in March or April. It only takes a few minutes to fill out, and you can respond online, by phone, or by mail.

Why is the census so important? 

The census determines where federal funds — about  $1.5 trillion — that pay for important health programs and services will be allocated. For example, this money supports more than 300 essential programs serving children and families, including Medicare; Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Housing Choice Voucher Program (section 8 housing); and Head Start. 

“With so much at stake, Boston Children’s Hospital is calling on every household to respond to the federal government’s census questionnaire to help ensure health equity for all children,” says Josh Greenberg, vice president for Government Relations at Boston Children’s. 

The Census Bureau website reports that census invitations come by mail, not unsolicited emails. Learn more on how to avoid census scams.

Who needs to complete the census form?

Everyone who lives in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia (DC), or one of the five territories that make up the United States on April 1, 2020, is required by law to be counted in the 2020 census. The law applies to new babies, senior citizens, and people who are homeless, regardless of their citizenship status. In fact, there is no citizenship question on the 2020 census form. 

Is it safe to fill out the census form?

Yes. The data captured will be compiled into a broad snapshot of the population and not reported on an individual level. 

“Census responses are safe, secure, and protected by law,” says Ethel Harris-Shepard, partnership specialist with the New York Regional Census Center Field Division of the U.S. Census Bureau. “Every Census Bureau employee takes an oath for life to protect the confidentiality of your data. We could go to jail or be fined up to $250,000 if we violate that oath.”

Participating in the 2020 Census is safe, easy, and important. Visit https://2020census.gov to learn more.

How does the census help high-risk children?

For each person not counted in the census, $2,372 of federal funding is lost, which takes money directly away from programs serving children.

“In 2010, the last time to census was done, about one million children under the age of 5, and 2.2 million children total were not counted — and many of them were high risk,” says Jamie Gaynes, manager of State Government Relations at Boston Children’s. “When we miss counting children, it can have long-term consequences for them and their families, and can even impact how they access health care.”

Census 2020: A role for health care providers
Health care providers at Boston Children’s and elsewhere can play an important role in making sure no child is left uncounted in the 2020 census, according to Dr. Amanda Stewart with the Division of Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s. She recently co-authored an article in Pediatrics encouraging her colleagues to help make sure everyone is included in the latest efforts.

Clinicians who want to learn more about supporting census efforts can also access the Healthcare Provider’s Guide to the US 2020 Census.

How does Boston Children’s support community outreach?

As part of Boston Children’s commitment to the health of the community, the Office of Community Health gives grants through its Collaboration for Community Health to community programs to help communicate with and conduct outreach to families in hard-to-reach areas to complete the census, says Dr. Shari Nethersole, executive director for Community Health at Boston Children’s. 

“Children at risk of being missed in the census tend to live in multigenerational or extended family housing, with foster families, homes with limited English, or in families that have recently moved or do not have a permanent home,” says Harris-Shepard. Involving community groups in helping to reach these populations will go a long way toward making sure no one gets missed.

Learn more from Boston Children’s about the 2020 census.

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