The Chronic Stress of Poverty: Toxic to Children

The first time I met Anthony,1 it felt like a kick in the stomach—literally. He was sitting on an exam table in my clinic, and as I leaned in close to examine him, he got scared, lost control, and wham! He got me. Anthony’s mother brought him in not just for his rash, but also because she had heard that we had a different way of doing things at the California Pacific Medical Center’s Bayview Child Health Center.

I founded the clinic in 2007 to address health disparities in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. Bayview is home to thousands of families struggling every day to make ends meet. Many San Franciscans are not even aware that Bayview exists, let alone that it is home to the highest density of children in the city, many of them in women-led households.

Over and over again, I heard stories in the clinic such as the one from Anthony’s mom. Her child had a rash and she was worried about it, but what she was really worried about was his behavior. At age 6, he was struggling to sit still in class and frequently interrupting the teacher. Sometimes he lost control and would hit, kick, or run out of the classroom. She was worried about having to leave work so often to talk to school officials. Her son was a sweet kid, but he had been through a lot. His dad had struggled with sobriety, there had been domestic violence, and his dad was now out of the picture. While his mom was grateful that the drama had ended, she missed having someone to help with Anthony, and every month it was a challenge to make ends meet.

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