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Kids Connected: Breaking the cycle of poverty through integrated healthcare

COVID-19 is exposing Chicago’s deep economic and health inequities that have plagued Black and Brown communities on the South and West sides of the city for generations. There is a 30-year life expectancy gap between residents living in the North and South and West sides of Chicago. This disparity can be attributed to social determinants of health inequities, such as housing instability and homelessness, lack of essential items, including healthy food, and access to efficient physical and mental health care services.

Primo Center, Catholic Charities and Heartland Alliance are taking an innovative approach to address these deep-seeded challenges in our city. The collaboration addresses the social determinants of health at the root of Chicago’s homeless population. This is an important conversation to bring to the forefront of public awareness and community need during this pandemic.

Each organization works to address these inequalities that were prevalent prior to COVID-19 but are now accentuated. The majority of of our client base live on Chicago’s South and West sides that are comprised of African American families and children—this population makes up 100% of Primo Center’s residents. It is alarming that the African American community makes up a high percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths, which intensifies the importance and necessity of our work.

Inadequate healthcare for homeless children adds to the cycle of family homelessness. In 2018, our organizations received a $2.3 million grant to establish the Kids Connected program, successfully launched in January.

Kids Connected addresses the lack of integrated healthcare resources and programs for homeless children. It is groundbreaking by creating a system of care by combining three key principles used and refined across the country, but never used to support homeless families. They are: Systems of care, wraparound services, and integrated health homes. Kids Connected melds all three for the first time to deliver seamless support to homeless children and their families. It includes integrated care—complete with assigned care coordinators, who work with a single family to determine plans of action and care—and need medicine.

Kids Connected reduces the cost for medical care. Our goal for Kids Connected to is remove the barriers to primary, preventative and mental health care services for underserved populations, creating a streamlined system that puts the child and family at the center of their care and wraps all needed services and supports around the family.

This collaborative work is at the core of our individual and combined missions, and it is our hope that Kids Connected will become a universal model for integrated health services for homeless families and children, who need us now more than ever.

Kids Connected is funded by the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation with support from the Crown Family Foundation. Find out more information at https://www.primocenter.org/programs/

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