TCP Hosts Director of Office for Civil Rights in Powerful Conversation on Children’s Rights

TCP Hosts Director of Office for Civil Rights in Powerful Conversation on Children’s Rights

As The Children’s Partnership continues celebrating our 30th anniversary of advocating for the health and well-being of all children in California, we held the second installment of our For Our Children’s Future speaker series on April 23, 2024. “A Child’s Right to Thrive” featured an online fireside chat between Melanie Fontes Rainer, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and TCP President Mayra E. Alvarez.

The two health equity leaders discussed a wide range of topics, including systemic barriers to care, intersectionality and impact of childhood experiences, cultural competency in care, families’ rights and more.

Director Fontes Rainer talked about her personal lived experience growing up in a single-parent household and having to take care of herself at a young age while her mother worked and her father was in prison.

“Many of you might identify with that and the responsibilities that come with that and what that means as a kid,” she said. “The experiences of kids across the country are diverse, and we know so much more about that now than when I was a kid…[We] need to talk about these things and normalize them so kids aren’t taking this all on their own.”

Director Fontes Rainer told a story about how she learned about the concept of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. She was working with a state surgeon general on opioids and the effect their use by adults can have on children. And as the surgeon general described examples of ACEs, Fontes Rainer realized that she had experienced several of those as a child.

“[I realized] that all these experiences I had as a kid shaped who I am… They impacted me and my mental health, how I accessed education or services,” she said.

“Thinking through what it means to be a kid or parent who maybe doesn’t speak English, maybe has a disability, and the intersectionality of those and how you access services is really important. The intersectionality of who we are as people and the rights that we have, and making sure that we’re culturally accessible and accommodating to that because it’s not uniform, we’re not a monolith.”

She encouraged the audience of advocates to share the perspectives and stories of community members as much as possible with government offices like hers, as one of the most effective ways to illustrate real impact.

Director Fontes Rainer also acknowledged the important work advocates do for the people they serve.

“I want to say to all the advocates and organizations, thank you. I know you bear a tremendous amount of responsibility to be a voice or the participant for lots of communities and stakeholders across the country. I see you.”

Director Melanie Fontes Rainer

The conversation was enlightening and inspiring. Thank you to Director Fontes Rainer for taking the time to share more about how her life experiences inform her work today and how the Office for Civil Rights can help advocates and individuals in their communities.

TCP is grateful for the generous support of our sponsors that make events like this possible. Stay tuned for more events as we continue to celebrate 30 years of advocacy for child health equity!