Phyllis Landrieu could have retired years ago. Along with honors like being the first female Democratic Chair of Louisiana—not to mention raising ten kids—she’s been a longtime linchpin of the Orleans Parish School Board. Now 79, Landrieu continues to crusade for the cause nearest her heart: taking care of New Orleans children.
The Childhood Family and Learning Foundation was born out of Landrieu’s desire to do something about the endemic poverty and subsequent poor health keeping New Orleans kids from success in school. After starting the organization in 2006, Landrieu tapped Dr. Pat Cooper to run it. When Connie Bellone, the foundation’s Director of Health, developed the concept of “Coordinated Care for the Whole Child,” this program became the foundation’s driving force.
Landrieu, who earned the moniker “The Dragon Lady of City Hall” for her political work in the ‘60s, explained that though New Orleans schools should not be totally responsible for a child’s health, it makes sense to bring healthcare agencies and services together at school, where children go every day. By addressing the holistic wellness of each child at the beginning of the school year, the foundation’s in-school Health and Wellness teams can develop treatment plans for kids facing medical obstacles.
“In New Orleans, there are 26,500 children living in poverty,” Landrieu said. “They are third- and fourth-generation poor, and will have no hope unless they can get an education that will lead to a decent-paying job.”
In order to give them that education, Landrieu explained, medical “roadblocks” must be cleared away, starting with basic healthcare issues like immunizations, which are legally required, and which as many as 50% of New Orleans public school students lack, according to Landrieu.
Problems like poor vision or hearing directly affect a child’s ability to learn, but often go unaddressed due to poor or nonexistent healthcare. In addition, special educational needs and mental disorders are not managed, leading to an automatic disadvantage for kids with these issues. “Can you imagine how important it is for a child to see the LEAP test in order to pass it?” asked Landrieu.
Because of the Childhood Family and Learning Foundation, over 18,000 New Orleans kids have received health screenings, with almost 6,000 referred for follow-up care. To Landrieu, providing this basic support to kids is the most important issue on the table.
“Until we begin to provide the kind of investment and attention we give to other community ambitions and start investing in our children, we are wasting our greatest opportunity,” Landrieu said.